Pakistan's incoming prime minister Nawaz Sharif (2L) meets with journalists at his farm house in Raiwind on the outskirts of Lahore on May 13, 2013. — Photo by AFP

LAHORE: Nawaz Sharif, poised to become prime minister for a third time after a decisive victory in the elections, said on Monday that the mistrust which had long dogged relations with India needed to be addressed.

He also pledged to strengthen relations with the United States, but called its drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal region a challenge to national sovereignty.

Mr Sharif said he had a “long chat” with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday and both of them extended invitation to each other to visit, a diplomatic nicety in some parts of the world, but a heavily symbolic step for South Asia’s arch-enemies.

Asked by an Indian journalist if he would invite Mr Singh for his swearing-in as prime minister, he said he would be very happy to extend that invitation.

“There are fears on your side; there are fears on our side. We have to seriously address this,” Mr Sharif said while speaking to the foreign media at his palatial estate outside Lahore.

A supporter of free market policy, he wants to see trade between the two countries unshackled, and he has a history of making conciliatory gestures towards New Delhi.

In 1999, when he was prime minister, Mr Sharif stood at the frontier post waiting to welcome his counterpart, Atal Behari Vajpayee, to arrive on the inaugural run of a bus service between New Delhi and Lahore.

It was a moment of high hope for two countries that had gone to war three times in the preceding decades.

But by May of that year, the two sides were sucked into a new conflict as then army chief Pervez Musharraf sent forces across the line dividing Kashmir. And by October, Mr Sharif had been ousted by Gen Musharraf in a bloodless coup.

Mr Sharif’s return to power 14 years later has raised concern that he will again cross swords with the military, which has long controlled the country’s foreign and security policies.

Mr Sharif sought to play down his perceived enmity towards the army, saying he only blamed Gen Musharraf for the coup, not the entire service. “I think the rest of the army resented Gen Musharraf’s decision,” he said.

“So I don’t hold the rest of the army responsible for that.”

He said that as prime minister he would ensure that the military and the civilian government work together on the myriad problems facing the country. In an ironic twist, Gen Musharraf is currently under house arrest after returning from self-imposed exile, and Mr Sharif will need to decide whether to press treason charges against him in the Supreme Court.

Open to like-minded allies

Mr Sharif said his PML-N won enough of the 272 National Assembly seats to rule on its own, but suggested he was open to allies joining his government.

“I am not against any coalition. But as far as Islamabad is concerned, we are ourselves in a position to form our own government,” he said. “All those who share our vision, we will be happy to work with them.”

Mr Sharif’s biggest challenges are likely to be closer to home — fixing the shattered economy, ending an appalling energy crisis, coping with poverty and tackling a Taliban insurgency.

Another bailout from the International Monetary Fund to avoid a new balance of payments crisis is seen as inevitable.

Mr Sharif suggested that he would be willing to implement politically sensitive reforms to secure an IMF lifeline.

He has picked Senator Ishaq Dar as his finance minister in the new cabinet, a party spokesman said on Monday. Mr Dar had “all the facts and figures at his fingertips” and would present in June the budget for the next financial year, Siddiqul Farooq said.

Mr Dar, who served as finance minister in a previous cabinet of Mr Sharif in the 1990s, has said he plans to push provincial governments to collect agricultural taxes, a policy that can set him on a collision course with some of the PML-N’s wealthy backers.

US war against terrorism, drone attacks

Mr Sharif said ahead of the election that Pakistan should reconsider its support for the US war against terrorism and suggested he was in favour of negotiations with the Taliban.

As prime minister-elect, Mr Sharif chose his words carefully on Monday, saying Islamabad and Washington have “good relations” and “need to listen to each other”.

Asked about US drone strikes against militants on Pakistani soil, which many see as a violation of sovereignty, he referred to it as a “challenge” to sovereignty.

“We will sit with our American friends and talk to them about this issue,” he said.

“Of course we have taken this matter up very seriously. I think this is a very serious issue, and our concern must be understood properly.”

The CIA’s drone campaign targeting Al Qaeda and other militants has been extremely controversial in Pakistan, where people say it frequently kills innocent civilians — something Washington denies — and that it violates Pakistan’s sovereignty.

Mr Sharif promised Pakistan’s “full support” as the United States withdraws combat troops from Afghanistan next year. “If there are concerns on either side I think we should address those concerns and strengthen this relationship.”

The US and Nato are due to withdraw most of their troops from war-torn Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and Pakistan will be a key transit point for shipping home equipment overland to the Karachi port.

“We will extend full support to them and we will see everything goes smoothly,” Mr Sharif said, hours after President Barack Obama said Washington was ready to work with Islamabad “as equal partners” and welcomed the transition.

Pakistan will likely play a strong role in any reconciliation deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Nawaz Sharif urged Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf to drop his claims of vote rigging, saying “I think we should all show sportsman’s spirit and accept the results of the elections.”—Agencies

Updated May 14, 2013 06:38am

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Comments (14) (Closed)

May 14, 2013 06:59am
India very well remembers the last time Indian prime minister trusted Nawaz Sharif and went to Lahore by bus. After the Kargil war, no Indian will trust Nawaz again. India will wait and watch the actions of Pakistan gaovernment and not rush into friendship based on talk.
Kadir Khan
May 14, 2013 06:59am
1. Let's see if Nawaz sharif will write letters to the swiss govt to re-open the case against Zardari. 2. Let's see if he will order investigation in Benazir's murder case. . problems for musharaf /malik rehman. 3. Lets see if nawaz sharif will order inquiry in Bugti's murder case .... more problems for musharaf. 4. Let's see who would nawazl choose - dr. Qadeer khan or raja zafarul haq for the post of president of pak incase zardari leaves. 5. Let's see if nawaz sharif will visit Kar to pay respect to Quaid's more trips to 9 zero. bring end to this trend for ever !!!!!!!!!!!!
Mahabub alam
May 14, 2013 10:21am
pls send me update news
May 14, 2013 11:54am

good luck nawaj shareef, we will see after five years how much your are successful. although nawaj shareef would not get any time from facing the serious domestic problem Pakistan faces.

dharmesh patel
May 14, 2013 12:03pm
very very good news
dharmesh patel
May 14, 2013 12:05pm
stop tererisam from pakistan and think about businees america is taking advantage to sale weapons time is come to increase business and stop tererisam
May 14, 2013 12:44pm

As expected, Mr. NS in his excitement went over-board to display his 'close association' and connection with the Indian PM. What was Mr. NS trying to prove by inviting himself to India? The Indian PM has rejected the invitation to visit Pakistan and if that is not enough to wake Mr. NS up, then we as Pakistanis should be prepared for further humiliation. The problem with Mr. NS is that he wants to create history and in pursuit of self glory, he would bend over backwards to settle the various disputes with India. Mr. NS needs to realise that Pakistan's national interest is and should be paramount and he is the PM of Pakistan not the Secretary of UN.

May 14, 2013 02:52pm

we are pleased with this news that nawaz sharif has taken a stance that we will have better relations with india and america.i have few points which are bothering my mind .1.nawaz sharif announced that he will call indian pm to his oath taking ceremony which has been regretted by the indian pm and instead pm manmohan singh has invited him to indian visit and nawaz sharif has accepted point is that our president and pm has visited india and invited indian pm to visit pakistan many times but he has never been to what nawaz sharif will gain by visiting india.this should be told to people of pakistan.2.nawaz sharif said that he will not allow in future incidents of violence against india such as kargil issue and mombey attacks.we appreciate this but can he tell us that mombey attackes were pakistani planned atackes.i voted for nawaz sharif during elections but never thought that he will let pakistan down.its indian turn to visit pakistan .can some one from pml answer this.

May 14, 2013 10:47pm

its not pml n or any other party who decide the fate of Pakistan. its Pakistanis who decide the fate.we being pakistani give us in the hands of those who miss use us. why not we banned indian movies in our country? why we promote indian culture ? why we dnt avoid hindi?indeed we are in complex and others can take us where they want.

May 15, 2013 03:18am

@Sanjeev: you have to know the facts of kargil took over the government of pakistan and it was the army chief musharafs idea.he imprisoned nawaz and later nawaz went into exile to saud to protect himself.

May 15, 2013 04:37am

An excellent opportunity for mr. Sharif to convey his message to both the US and India would be to invite President Obama and Dr. Singh to his swearing in ceremony and sign a peace treat with India, with the endorsement of the US.

Kadir Khan
May 14, 2013 01:52am
Let's see if Nawaz sharif will write letters to the swiss govt to re-open the case against Zardari. Let's see if he will order investigation in Benazir's murder case. . problems for musharaf /malik rehman. Lets see if nawaz sharif will order inquiry in Bugti's murder case .... more problems for musharaf. Let's see who would nawazl choose - dr. Qadeer khan or raja zafarul haq for the post of president of pak Let's see if nawaz sharif will visit Kar to pay respect to Quaid's moselem.
TheFartman (@abduinmarkets)
May 14, 2013 02:09am
Game Plan: Loot mar and more wealth in Dubai and the UK. You heard it here folks.
May 14, 2013 02:45am
Sportsman's spirit...good one