ISLAMABAD: World leaders began sending felicitation messages to Imran Khan, the prime minister-in-waiting, although his party is still trying to muster the support of independent candidates and smaller parties to secure a simple majority in the National Assembly.
Most notable among these messages was the message from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who telephoned Imran Khan on Monday.
According to a statement issued by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) media cell, Modi congratulated Imran on his election victory. According to the statement, the most significant aspect of the conversation was Modi’s unambiguous willingness to improve his country’s ties with Pakistan.
“India desires progressive relations with Pakistan”, the Indian PM was quoted as saying.
Both countries, Modi said, should evolve a joint strategy to develop and strengthen better ties.
In response, Imran Khan said that both neighbours should move towards conflict resolution through dialogue.
“Wars can breed tragedies instead of facilitating resolution of conflicts”, Khan was quoted as telling the Indian Prime Minister.
Appreciating the Indian Prime Minister’s positive gesture, Khan said that both countries should invest in poverty reduction, pulling millions out of the poverty trap.
Both leaders agreed to work together to tackle the challenges of poverty in the region.
Indian External Affairs Ministry also issued a statement about Modi’s call to Imran Khan.
“Prime Minister (Modi) spoke to Imran Khan, Chairperson of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and congratulated him for his party emerging as the largest political party in the National Assembly in the recently conducted general election,” it said.
“Prime Minister (Modi) expressed hope that democracy will take deeper roots in Pakistan. (He) also reiterated his vision of peace and development in the entire neighbourhood.”
The telephonic conversation immediately sparked a debate on social media with some reminding the incoming Prime Minister of how he used to mock the jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for his ‘friendship’ with Modi.
Diplomatic sources, nevertheless, pointed out that Modi telephoned Imran after his victory speech in which he offered India an olive branch.
Imran had offered India to resolve all issues through talks and even said that he was ready to take two steps if India takes one for normalising relations between the two countries.
Over the past few years, ties between Pakistan and India remained tense despite Modi’s overtures in May 2014.
There were occasions when two sides were close to the resumption of a fully-fledged dialogue. But trust deficit triggered by certain incidents on both sides of the border prevented a rapprochement between the two neighbours.
The resumption of the dialogue process became even more difficult during the end of Nawaz’s tumultuous four years in office as his political opponents, including Imran Khan, accused him of being too soft on Modi and his aggressive policies towards Pakistan.
Observers believe that given his economic reforms agenda, the PTI leader could not afford confrontation between Pakistan’s immediate neighbours, including India.
Therefore, Imran is likely to give peace a chance to settle the complex issues existing between the two countries, requiring an out-of-the-box approach.
However, any tweaking of the domestic foreign policy, particularly towards India, will certainly be closely scrutinised.
It still remains to be seen if Imran Khan has enough clout to make such major foreign policy changes, especially in connection with India given the fact that Nawaz had developed serious differences with the security establishment on the very same question.
Meanwhile, the President of the Maldives also telephoned Imran Khan and congratulated him on his victory in the general election.
Also on Monday, Chinese Ambassador Yao Jing called on Imran Khan at his Bani Gala residence.
The Chinese envoy congratulated him on the election victory and expressed his government’s desire to work closely with him.
Imran is reported to have told Beijing’s envoy that Islamabad valued its long-standing strategic ties with China. He said he would want to further deepen the relationships.
The Iranian government also sent him a message of felicitation through a letter and wished to work with the new government to pursue common objectives.