Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday warned the United Nations that his country’s dispute with India over Kashmir could end up escalating into an all-out nuclear war that would have consequences for the world. In a speech that lasted about 50 minutes, Khan said India could unleash a “bloodbath” in the Muslim majority territory as the two nuclear-armed nations took center stage at the United Nations General Assembly. His fiery speech was in contrast to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address an hour earlier when he touted domestic successes but only made an oblique reference to terrorism that was taken to mean Pakistan.
The speeches took place as thousands of protesters gathered outside the United Nations building demonstrating both in support of Modi and against the clampdown in Kashmir. Since the semi-autonomous status was scrapped in August, Kashmir has been under lockdown. Khan has warned of a repeat of the fighting between the regional rivals witnessed in February if India blamed his country for a homegrown militant attack in response to the crackdown. “If a conventional war starts between the two countries, anything could happen. But supposing a country seven times smaller than its neighbor is faced with the choice, either you surrender or you fight for your freedom till death,” Khan 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,” warned Khan. The Pakistani leader has also accused Indian forces of preparing a genocide once the curfew is lifted. India has yet to state the number of troops in Kashmir. However, the Pakistani Prime Minister puts the number at 900,000 troops. This will be the equivalent of two-thirds of the Indian army.
India accuses Pakistan of arming, funding and training militants in Kashmir and says it has taken action to preserve calm. During the pro-Pakistan demonstration, protesters held banners that read “Free Kashmir, End the Siege.” On the pro-Modi side, protesters held up placards hailing the Indian leader as a “visionary” and saying “Pakistan, what about your minorities?” On Friday, security forces in Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s former Jammu and Kashmir state imposed tough new restrictions fearing protests surrounding the twin speeches in New York.
On Thursday, US State Department official for South Asia, Alice Wells, said that Washington is pressing New Delhi to ease its restrictions in Kashmir, while also calling on Khan to dial down his rhetoric. Prime Minister Modi did not mention in his speech any efforts to internationalize Kashmir. Instead, he chose to focus on domestic policies such as improving access to toilets and helping millions open bank accounts. He however made a veiled reference to Pakistan, telling fellow world leaders “We belong to a country that has given the world, not war but Buddha’s message of peace.”