WASHINGTON: Amid a political storm over US President Donald Trump's claim for mediation in the Kashmir issue, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has claimed that New Delhi and Islamabad were once ''pretty close'' to resolving the Kashmir issue, in phases, during the regime of then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and military ruler General Pervez Musharraf.
"They came pretty close on resolving the Kashmir issue - phased movement... referendum during the time of Vajpayee," Pakistan PM Imran Khan said in response to a question during his appearance at the US Institute of Peace, a US-Congress funded think-tank.
Khan, however, refrained from elaborating on the solution, saying it is a sensitive issue and insisted that Kashmir is the "bone of contention" between India and Pakistan.
Imran Khan said Pakistan's "top priority is to build good relationships with our neighbours" apart from putting an end to corruption and building strong institutions. "We must have stability in our region," he said.
He said that after coming to power, he first tried to reach out to India.
"India is a country which we've had a turbulent relationship with. Unfortunately, because of one issue of Kashmir, whenever, we have tried, whenever relationship has started to move in the right direction with India, some incident happens and that's all related to Kashmir, and we go back to square one," he said.
Imran Khan claimed that soon after assuming office, he reached out to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and assured him that he will take two steps, if India takes one step because the biggest problem India and Pakistan face is poverty.
"The best way we can reduce poverty is that we start trading with each other," Imran Khan said.
During the session, the Pakistan PM deflected a question on Mumbai attack mastermind and Jamaat-ud Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed, who was recently arrested for the seventh time, and said it is in the interest of Pakistan that "we do not allow any armed terrorist groups to operate" in our country.
The Pulwama attack, he claimed, was "an indigenous thing."
Pakistan, he said, came in the picture, because a group (Jaish-e-Mohammad) based in his country and also in Kashmir claimed responsibility for the attack.
Imran Khan, who is on a three-day official visit to the US, met President Donald Trump - the first face-to-face interaction between the two leaders - on Monday in the White House. He described the meeting as very successful, which has reset the bilateral relationship.
"I never asked for any (security) assistance (from the US). I asked for understanding nor assistance," Imran Khan asserted.
(With Agency inputs)