LAHORE: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has expressed optimism about the outcome of peace talks with the Taliban and said he will monitor the exercise. He denied considering options other than dialogue.

“I will supervise the talks process and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali will be assisting me,” he said while talking to the media and during a meeting with senior journalists and columnists at Alhamra Arts Council here on Monday.

He reiterated the government’s position on talks with the Taliban, steps being taken to resolve issues of energy, inflation, etc, Pakistan’s relationship with India, the United States and Afghanistan and stance on Gen Musharraf’s treason trial.

Mr Sharif said his government was sincere about peace talks and rejected a perception that any option other than dialogue was being discussed simultaneously.

Notwithstanding the refusal by Imran Khan and Maulana Fazlur Rehman to be part of the Taliban’s negotiating team, the prime minister was optimistic about the outcome of the talks. “It’s a good beginning. Both sides have announced their respective committees and welcomed each other’s nominees. It is my utmost desire that the committees make headway.”

When asked about the Musharraf case, he said: “The law should be equal for everyone.”

The prime minister said Pakistan wanted to settle all issues with India, Afghanistan and other countries through dialogue for a lasting peace in the region. “We will have to put our house in order. We must sit on the table and speak what is right (hamain haq ki baat karni chahiye).” He said the US had no objections to talks with Taliban.

Mr Sharif said he had inherited a system that was not in good shape and that was why his government had to take tough decisions. But he promised to solve common problems, especially the energy crisis.

“It will be an achievement if we overcome energy shortages in five years. We must look to add sufficiently to the system over time to meet the projected need in future,” he said.

The prime minister explained the increase in electricity tariff that came during his first few months in power was something that should have been undertaken by the previous government. “They passed on the matter to the interim set-up (which was there, primarily, to hold elections).” From there the onus was shifted to the current government which, he said, tried not to burden the consumers using basic units.

“We are also concentrating on better load management. You must have noticed that there were fewer power riots last summer than a few summers before that,” he told journalists.

The prime minister said the decision to privatise the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) had been taken after long and hard deliberations.

“In the first phase, we’ve decided to privatise 26 per cent shares and to entrust its management to private hands. For the time being we’ve decided to get eight or nine aircraft which will be PIA’s assets.”

About the assets belonging to another major and troublesome state-run enterprise, Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM), he said he would look into the matter. When attention was drawn to a Supreme Court observation that PSM land should not be sold at a throwaway price, the prime minister said whenever a fresh process for its privatisation was initiated, he would make sure that the country got the best deal out of the transaction.

He claimed that his government’s policies had improved the economy. The thrust of the meeting with journalists was on the proposed talks with Taliban, but the Balochistan issue also came under discussion. Mr Sharif said his government wanted to resolve all issues through dialogue to save the country from further crises. “Chief Minister (Balochistan) Dr Abdul Malik Baloch will take all stakeholders on board for a durable peace in the province in the larger interest of the country.”

The federal government’s support and cooperation would always be with Dr Baloch, he added.

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