March 26, 2019 / 11:37 AM / 25 days ago

Pakistan's Khan fears conflict risk while India in election mode - FT

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said he feared another security incident with India, after the two nuclear-armed countries engaged in a dangerous escalation that fuelled “war hysteria” in New Delhi ahead of elections next month.

FILE PHOTO: Cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), speaks after voting in the general election in Islamabad, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

In an interview with the Financial Times on Tuesday, Khan said tensions were still high even after the crisis over a militant attack in the disputed region of Kashmir had eased with the release of an Indian pilot captured by Pakistani forces.

“I’m still apprehensive before the elections, I feel that something could happen,” Khan told the newspaper.

Pakistan and India, which have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, passed through a crisis last month after India accused Pakistan of being behind a militant attack that killed 40 policemen in Pulwama, in Indian-controlled Kashmir in February.

Islamabad denied responsibility for the attack, which was claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e Mohammed, but the attack prompted India to launch a cross border air strike against what it said was a militant training camp in Pakistan.

Pakistan responded with air strikes of its own and in an ensuing dog fight over Kashmir, at least one Indian plane was shot down and its pilot captured. The pilot was subsequently returned to India, leading to an easing in the crisis.

Khan has offered to hold talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the issue, the latest in a long series of confrontations over Kashmir, a majority Muslim region that is claimed by both countries. However he said Modi’s government appeared to be using the tensions for electoral purposes.

“When Pulwama happened I felt that Mr Modi’s government used that to build this war hysteria,” Khan told the Financial Times. “The Indian public should realise that this is all for winning the elections, it’s nothing to do with the real issues of the subcontinent.”

He repeated a denial that Pakistan was involved in the Pulwama attack and said a crackdown had been launched against militant groups.

Although the immediate crisis has eased, parts of Pakistani airspace continue to be closed to overflights, causing severe disruption to several international airline operations.

A spokesman for Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority said major airports had been re-opened and most commercial flights resumed after Pakistani airspace was closed during the height of the standoff but some areas were still closed.

“Part of the airspace is still closed for overflying - it’s partially open and partially closed. All major airports are open but a small part of the airpace is still closed,” the spokesman said, declining to elaborate.

Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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