UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan bluntly warned that war was possible over India’s crackdown in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, while U.S. President Donald Trump buddied up to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in their second meeting in three days.
Trump urged the sides to resolve their differences even as he gushed over Modi, saying he was as popular as American rock legend Elvis Presley.
Khan had a much different description for Modi when talking to reporters Tuesday at the U.N. General Assembly in New York: “racist.”
The nuclear-armed rivals, which have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, have been locked in a worsening standoff since Aug. 5, when Modi stripped the portion of Kashmir that India controls of its limited autonomy.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government imposed a sweeping military curfew and cut off residents in the Muslim-majority region from virtually all communications.
“For 50 days, the people of Kashmir have been locked down by 900,000 soldiers,” Khan said, describing mass arrests, non-functioning hospitals and “a total news blackout.”
“Eight million people in an open jail is unprecedented in this day and age. … The biggest worry is what happens once the curfew is lifted? We fear with 900,000 soldiers there, there will be a massacre,” Khan said. “There’s a potential that two nuclear-armed countries will come face to face at some stage.”
India and Pakistan’s conflict over Kashmir dates to the late 1940s, when they won independence from Britain. The region is one of the most heavily militarized in the world, patrolled by soldiers and paramilitary police. Most Kashmiris resent the Indian troop presence.
Modi has defended the Kashmir changes as freeing the territory from separatism, and his supporters welcomed the move.
While Khan warned of war, Trump was having a much lighter moment with Modi.
Trump on Tuesday compared Modi to Presley, the late American singer often referred to as the king of rock and roll, after Modi received a rock-star welcome Sunday in Houston. The president had carved out time to join Modi, who was greeted in Texas by 50,000 cheering Indian Americans.
“Those people went crazy,” Trump said as he and Modi met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. “That was like Elvis.”
Asked to describe his chemistry with Modi, Trump said it’s “as good as it can get.”
“I have great respect, I have great admiration and I really like him, that’s another thing,” the president told reporters.
He went on to describe Modi as a “great gentleman” and “great leader” and suggested he be called the “father of India.”
Modi also showered Trump with praise, saying he’s “definitely my friend, but he is also a friend of India,” the prime minister said.
On the Kashmir standoff, Trump urged Modi and Khan to find a resolution.
“We all want to see that,” said Trump, who met with Khan on Monday.
While Khan said he has raised Kashmir with world leaders this week, he expressed no interest in meeting with Modi.
“Unfortunately, India today is governed by a racist, a Hindu supremacist,” Khan said. “They do not consider Muslims as equal citizens.”
Khan also addressed claims by India’s army chief, Gen. Bipin Rawat, that Pakistan has reactivated militant camps in its portion of Kashmir and about 500 militants are waiting to infiltrate India. He didn’t provide any evidence to back his claims, and Khan called the assertion “nonsense.”
“What possible benefit is Pakistan going to have now sending in terrorists when there are 900,000 security forces there? All that would happen is that there would be more oppression on the people of Kashmir,” he said.
Khan also said that he had begun, at Trump’s request, to mediate talks between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over a nuclear standoff. He provided no other details but said he had spoken to Rouhani on Monday after Trump asked Khan to “deescalate the situation.”
“We are trying our best,” Khan said.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.