Dr Mahathir Mohamad admitted that Putrajaya’s ties with India became strained following his remarks on the conflict in Kashmir at the United Nations General Assembly last year.
However, the former prime minister said, apart from that, the relationship between the two nations was “very good” under his leadership.
“Well, it did because of my remarks on Kashmir,” Mahathir said in an interview with WION, an English language news channel in India when asked if bilateral ties had deteriorated during his administration.
“But other than that, the relations were fairly good, even under my leadership.”
Mahathir, in his speech at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in New York on Sept 28, 2019, had said that “despite the UN resolution on Kashmir and Jammu, the country has been invaded and occupied”.
He also called on India to “work with Pakistan to resolve the problem”.
His comments sparked an online backlash with Indian social media users calling for a boycott of Malaysia. Mahathir, however, maintained his stance.
When asked why he made such comments, despite knowing the reaction it would spark, Mahathir said he had been commenting on affairs all over the world, “where I see something wrong is done”.
“This isn’t about support for Pakistan, it’s about the people of Kashmir, they have been freed but now they are under India.
“And this is, of course, not in accordance with the initial agreement that was made at the time of the partition,” he said.
“I offer no apology for what I had said, although I am sorry that it had affected our palm oil exports to India. I don’t know if that is a high price to pay for speaking out against such injustices,” he added.
Meanwhile, when asked why he raised concerns about Muslims in India, “but would not stand up for the Muslims in China”, referring to the Uighur minority, Mahathir said Putrajaya’s relationship with Beijing and India “were not quite the same”.
“With India, we feel that you are more liberal, more willing to accept criticisms. But, with China you know they don’t. They have a different system and different viewpoints.”
China has faced mounting international criticism for rounding up an estimated one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in a network of internment camps.
Last year, Mahathir said Muslims countries keep mum over the treatment of the Uighur minority as China was a powerful nation.
In the interview with WION, he said, “we don’t go to war with China”.
“We try to find other ways of solving our strained relations with China.”
Dr Mahathir also said he was freer to speak out now as he no longer held any position.
“Now that I am no more the prime minister, I take it that I can now speak without restraint and address the Kashmir issue without threats of boycotts and such,” he said.
Refusal to extradite Zakir Naik
Mahathir also reiterated the Pakatan Harapan government’s reluctance to deport controversial preacher Zakir Naik to India where he is wanted for money laundering and terrorism-related activities.
Mahathir had previously said Naik, who holds permanent resident status in Malaysia, would not get a fair trial should he be deported back to India.
Mahathir also said the Muslim-Hindu relations in India is not so good and that there has been lynching.
“He is not very welcome in India, so we thought for the time being he can stay here. But we would like to send him to some other country where he would be safe.”