WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Tuesday that he would urge the United States to end drone strikes which he described as a major irritant in US-Pakistan relations.
Mr Sharif meets President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday, his first with the US leader in his third tenure as Pakistan’s prime minister.
In a speech at the US Institute of Peace, he also said that India and Pakistan had a “common destiny” and they had no option but to resolve their differences peacefully.
Mr Sharif told an audience of US think-tank experts and policy-makers that US drone strikes had “deeply disturbed and agitated our people” and that’s why in his very first statement to Parliament, he had “reiterated our strong commitment to ensuring an end to the drone attacks.”
The prime minister recalled that at a recent conference in Islamabad, the country’s political parties had declared that the use of drones was “not only a continued violation of our territorial integrity, but also detrimental to our resolve and efforts at eliminating terrorism from our country”.
India: During a brief Q & A session, Mr Sharif said improving relations with India was his “favourite” topic and in 1999, he took a major step towards this goal by inviting the then Indian prime minister to Lahore.
“We share a common history, as well as a common destiny. Our past and our future are inter-twined. Pakistan is happy to see the people of India live in peace and security,” the prime minister said.
“The people of Pakistan want to resolve all outstanding issues with India, through dialogue and negotiations.”
Mr Sharif said there were areas where India and Pakistan could make quick progress and could also normalise trade relations. He said his meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last month in New York reflected his desire for a quick improvement in ties.
“I am confident that we can overcome challenges and find solutions to all issues, as long as we stay engaged. In any case, we do not want isolated incidents to interrupt our dialogue.”
Pakistan, he said, had a simple message for India: Future prosperity and economic development in South Asia depend on peace and security in the region. Therefore, all of us have a stake in working for these noble objectives, for our own sake, as well as for the sake of our future generations.
“It is about time that the two sides addressed their bilateral issues with utmost seriousness, in order to avail themselves of the historic opportunity of devoting their energies and resources, to development and betterment of their teeming millions,” Mr Sharif said.
The prime minister said had India and Pakistan not wasted their precious resources in a never-ending arms race, “we would not only have avoided the futile conflicts, but also emerged as stable and prosperous nations.”
Afghanistan: Turning to another key neighbouring state, Mr Sharif said that a peaceful, stable and united Afghanistan was in Pakistan’s vital interest.
“Our efforts are, therefore, focused on helping the stabilisation of Afghanistan, which is going through a vitally important phase, with security and political transition underway,” he said. “Pakistan wishes these landmark transitions to be completed peacefully and smoothly.”
Pakistan also wished the international community to remain engaged in supporting Afghanistan’s reconstruction and economic development.
As an essential element of its policy, Pakistan strongly supports an inclusive, Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process, he said.
Mr Sharif said that during Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent visit to Islamabad, he assured him that Pakistan “wishes neither to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, nor do we have any favourites.”
Pakistan, he said, was also trying to upgrade relations with Afghanistan, in all spheres. “My own vision is that it should be defined by a strong trade and economic partnership.”
The prime minister reminded the audience that besides hosting millions of Afghan refugees for decades, Pakistan was also extending assistance worth more than $450 million for Afghanistan’s reconstruction and capacity-building, with special focus on infrastructure, health and education sectors.
Pakistan has also decided to extend the Karachi-Peshawar highway up to Kabul as its modest contribution to bringing Afghanistan into the regional economic hub.
“We believe that we can work with Afghanistan for enhanced regional and economic cooperation that would establish and reinforce regional trade, energy and communication corridors.