Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Saturday set conditions for dialogue with India on the Kashmir dispute, demanding that local politicians be released and prohibitory orders be removed from the state. In an interview with BBC Urdu, Qureshi said Pakistan had never refused to negotiate with India, but the atmosphere was not conducive for dialogue right now.

“In an environment where curfew is imposed, people are suffering with life and death situation, gangrapes are taking place, people are incarcerated, I don’t see any negotiating environment,” Qureshi said in the interview.

Qureshi demanded that India allow him to meet Kashmiri leaders so that he can talk to them and “understand their sentiments”. “I think if India is serious then release the Kashmiri leaders first and allow me to meet the Kashmiri leadership and consult,” he said. “I have to see the sentiments of the Kashmiri leadership. Pakistan cannot sit at the negotiation table by disrespecting their sentiments and crushing Kashmiris’ feelings.”

Qureshi also claimed there were three sides involved in the Kashmir dispute: India, Pakistan and Kashmir.

The minister said Islamabad had always preferred peace and had repeatedly offered to start talks with India because the two nuclear-armed neighbours could not take the risk of going to war. “People of both countries will be destroyed by [war], the world will be affected by this, so war is not an option,” he told BBC Urdu.

However, he said if faced with a situation of war, Islamabad was ready for the fight. Qureshi also pointed out that Pakistan had successfully test-fired a nuclear-capable surface-to-surface ballistic missile called Ghaznavi.

Qureshi’s comments came a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote an op-ed article in The New York Times, warning about an imminent military escalation between the two nuclear powers if the world does not intervene. Khan had also said he wanted to normalise relations with India and called for dialogue on the Kashmir dispute. A day later, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had said that India was open to discussing outstanding matters with Pakistan “in an atmosphere free of terror and violence”.

Tensions between India and Pakistan have escalated since India’s August 5 announcement revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. Pakistan, which has fought three wars with India for Kashmir since Independence, has not taken the decision well. Several leaders in Jammu and Kashmir were taken into custody or put under house arrest after the state lost its special status. These include former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah, and former bureaucrat Shah Faesal.

After the August 5 order, Pakistan downgraded diplomatic relations and suspended bilateral trade with India. Since then, the country has raised the Kashmir dispute at the United Nations Security Council and has said that it would take it up at the UN Human Rights Council and the International Court of Justice as well.

Last week, Prime Minister Imran Khan had said that he would no longer attempt to deliberate with the Indian government on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. He has also raised concerns about the threat of war between the two nuclear-armed countries on multiple occasions.

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