Imran Khan warns of nuclear war as Kashmir crisis dominates UN speech

The Pakistani premier spoke after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

epa07874347 Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the General Debate of the 74th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations at United Nations Headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 27 September 2019. The annual meeting of world leaders at the UN runs until 30 September 2019.  EPA/JUSTIN LANE
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Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday urged the United Nations to step in over Kashmir, warning that if a dispute with India is not tackled there could be a nuclear war.

Mr Khan's fiery 50-minute speech to the General Assembly in New York followed an address by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while thousands of citizens of both countries held rival demonstrations on streets near the UN.

The stakes were high, Mr Khan said, suggesting that India could unleash “a bloodbath” in the Muslim-majority territory. Mr Modi avoided the topic though he did mention terrorism, which was taken as a pointed reference to Pakistan.

The Pakistani premier, elected in August last year, said his first step in office was to speak to Mr Modi but the effort had not led anywhere.

A crackdown in Kashmir – autonomy in the Indian-administered part was scrapped by Mr Modi in early August and a curfew imposed – has created a situation that could see a resumption of fighting and a higher risk of militant violence.

“There are 900,000 troops there, they haven't come to, as Narendra Modi says - for the prosperity of Kashmir,” Mr Khan said.

"These 900,000 troops, what are they going to do? When they come out? There will be a bloodbath.”

If fighting does break out, as it did in February, the situation could rapidly deteriorate, Mr Khan said.

“If a conventional war starts between the two countries, anything could happen. But supposing a country seven times smaller than its neighbour is faced with the choice: either you surrender, or you fight for your freedom till death,” he said.

“What will we do? I ask myself these questions. We will fight ... and when a nuclear-armed country fights to the end, it will have consequences far beyond the borders”.

India has accused elements of Pakistan's military and security services of fomenting an insurgency in Kashmir, through the supply of money, weapons, and training of militants.

Mr Modi's speech was focused on domestic achievements, mainly economic.

"We belong to a country that has given the world, not war, but Buddha's message of peace,” he said.

“And that is the reason why our voice against terrorism, to alert the world about this evil rings with seriousness and outrage.”

But before he spoke at the UN, concrete and razor wire barricades went up across Srinagar, the capital of India's former Jammu and Kashmir state, and other towns in the disputed Muslim-majority territory. Security forces in bulletproof gear guarded deserted streets following orders to stop any public rallies.

In New York, pro-Pakistan protesters held banners that read “Free Kashmir, End the Siege," while on the pro-Modi side supporters held up placards hailing the Indian leader as a “visionary”.

Mr Khan said the crackdown by Indian forces was radicalising a new generation. And in remarks that drew boos from the audience, said he would take up arms if he were in their situation.

“I've been locked up for 55 days, I've heard about rapes, Indian army going in homes, soldiers,” he said, imagining himself as a Kashmiri.

“Would I want to live this humiliation? Would I want to live like that? I would pick up a gun. You're forcing people. You are forcing people into radicalisation.”

India exercised its right to respond to Mr Khan's address through Vidisha Maitra, First Secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs, who accused the Pakistani prime minister of resorting to "brinkmanship, not statesmanship" by raising the possibility of a nuclear conflict.

"What we heard today from Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan was a callous portrayal of the world in binary terms. Us versus them; rich versus poor; North versus South; developed versus developing; Muslims versus others. A script that fosters divisiveness at the United Nations," she said, before going on to pose a series of questions highlighting India's claim that Pakistan supports terrorism.