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Work for a ‘terror-free’ South Asia, says India

.NEW DELHI, July 29, (Agencies): India on Saturday said it hoped the new government of Pakistan would “work constructively” to end militancy in South Asia, in its first comments following this week’s general election in Pakistan. Cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, who won the disputed election, has called for better ties with India. “We hope that the new government of Pakistan will work constructively to build a safe, stable, secure and developed South Asia free of terror and violence,” India’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement. India accuses Pakistan of backing several anti-India militant groups and helping them to infiltrate the divided Kashmir region to stoke violence.

Pakistan denies the charge. On Thursday, as he declared victory in the election, Khan said India and Pakistan should resolve the Kashmir dispute through talks. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since their independence in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.

Clashes between their forces in Kashmir largely stopped aft er a 2003 ceasefire but exchanges of fire have been more common in more recent years. India’s foreign affairs ministry did not directly comment on Khan’s call for talks, but said it welcomed that “the people of Pakistan have reposed their faith in democracy through general elections”. “India desires a prosperous and progressive Pakistan at peace with its neighbours,” the statement said.

On Saturday Khan opened coalition talks with at least one smaller party and independent politicians, a spokesman said, aft er the announcement of the full results of the election. The party of Khan on Saturday claimed it had acquired the support of the lawmakers required to form a coalition government aft er winning this week’s polls, as a secular party angered over alleged fraud rallied in the northwest. “People have voted us into power and God willing, we will form a government,” Fawad Chaudhry, the spokesman for Khan’s party, told The Associated Press. He did not say exactly how many lawmakers had agreed to join their future government, saying the announcement would be made when the National Assembly convenes next week for the swearing in ceremony of the newly elected lawmakers.

His comment came hours aft er Pakistan’s elections oversight body released its final results, saying Khan won 115 of 269 contested seats in the National Assembly, while his nearest rival, Shahbaz Sharif ’s Pakistan Muslim League, won 64 seats. Initially it had said Khan won 116 seats. Th e party of former president Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan People’s Party, bagged 43 seats. Chaudhry said that the success of Pakistan Tehreeke- Insaf in the general elections meant the end of decades- long dynastic rule in Pakistan. Still, several members of Khan’s party are members of Pakistan’s traditional ruling elite. He brought them on board as so-called “electables” he needed to win at the polls.

More than 2,000 supporters of the secular Awami National Party rallied in the town of Charsadda against fraud in the vote, in which it got one seat. A small demonstration was also held in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, and the party called for another one on Monday. Also Saturday, four newly elected independent lawmakers in the Punjab Assembly joined Khan’s party aft er meeting with him.

It means Khan will try to form a coalition government in Punjab province, which has been the stronghold of Sharif since 1980s. Sharif ’s party got slightly more seats in the Punjab Assembly than Khan’s party. Khan’s party won a majority in the conservative Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province, while Zardari’s party dominated in the southern Sindh’s provincial legislature.

The restive Baluchistan province, which is troubled by militant violence, was won by a mix of small parties that will have to form a coalition to rule. Sharif is being held at a jail in the garrison city of Rawalpindi along with his daughter Maryam Nawaz, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in the same corruption case.

Sharif was arrested on July 13 when he returned to Pakistan from London to face a 10-year prison sentence on separate corruption charges. A Pakistani court will hear the appeals of Sharif and Nawaz on July 31.

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