Quest for peace in neighbourhood to continue: Sharif
By Baqir Sajjad Syed | 6/12/2015

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a key foreign policy speech on Thursday said his government would protect national interests in the face of increased Indian bellicosity and that resolution of the Kashmir dispute would remain a priority.

Addressing the concluding session of a three-day envoys conference, Mr Sharif said: `We will protect our vital interests at all costs. This message must be heard loud and clear.

The conference attended by Pakistani envoys posted in Saarc, ECO and Gulf countries was convened to discuss the prospects of regional connectivity projects and frame recommendations for the government in this regard.

Mr Sharif, in his speech before an audience comprising the country`s senior diplomats which was also telecast live, responded to some of the hostile statements made by the Indian leadership, including a couple by his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi accusing Pakistan of `promoting terrorism`, and creating `nuisance`, besides reminding it about the sad events of 1971 which led to creation of Bangladesh, and boasting about the Indian role in the separation.

`The entire nation is dismayed by the recent irresponsible and, I must say, imprudent statements from the Indian political leadership. This vitiates the atmosphere and takes us farther away from our goals of regional peace and stability,` the prime minister said, adding that Indian provocations would not make Pakistan abandon its `high moral ground`.

Referring to his meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon earlier this week in which he renewed the call for implementation of the Security Council`s resolutions on Kashmir, Mr Sharif said: `The issue of Jammu and Kashmir cannot be relegated to the backburner of history.

Kashmir has once again taken the centre stage in the strained Pakistan-India ties.

In an allusion to India, he said that `externally sponsored terrorism` along with violent extremism posed the gravest threat to national security.

Pakistan`s military leadership has already pointed fingers at the Indian intelligence agency RAW`s subversive role in Pakistan.

The prime minister, who had been a great advocate of normalisation with India, did not appear too optimistic about the future of ties. He seemed to be saying that onus for re-engagement now lay with India.

`We will continue our quest for a peaceful neighbourhood. But there should be reciprocity and acknowledgement of the overtures I have made to promote the dialogue process,` he maintained.

AFGHANISTAN: Mr Sharif also dwelt upon the improvements in ties with Afghanistan.

`We are strengthening our ties in the fields of trade, education, military training and intelligence cooperation,` he noted.

The two countries over the past few months took unprecedented steps towards improved relations.

However, with little progress on the reconciliation and no let-up in Afghan Taliban violence, it is feared that it will soon become difficult for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to remain friendly with Islamabad.

In a message apparently directed towards Kabul, the prime minister tried to reassure that Pakistan `would make sure that terrorists do not establish hideouts in our territory`.

While Mr Sharif observed that checking cross-border violence was a `shared responsibility`, he also reminded the Afghans of Pakistani expectation that their (Afghan) soil would not be used against Pakistan.

YEMEN: On the Saudi Arabia-Yemen conflict, he again called for negotiations to resolve the dispute.

His call came ahead of the Yemeni-led consultations being held in Geneva on June 14, which can potentially put a broad-based political settlement back at the centre of efforts for ending the conflict.

The Pakistan government treaded very carefully during the entire Yemen conflict which erupted into a full scale international crisis in March after the Saudi-led coalition started air strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen. The government all along ensured that its `neutral stance` did not offend its long-time ally Riyadh.

A reflection of that was also visible during Mr Sharif`s speech, where he repeated hiss policy of neutrality, but went on to say that his government would `stand by Saudi Arabia` in calling on Houthi rebels to end violence and seek a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

He also regretted the ineffectiveness of regional blocs Saarc and ECO.

`Pakistan, along with other likeminded countries, has always been a driving force to revitalise these organisations, but regrettably they are not taking off. It is time for Saarc and ECO to become connectivity backbones for South, Central and West Asia. Pakistan should continue its efforts in this regard,` he said.

Speaking about the policy on regional connectivity, the prime minister said his government supported cross regional projects focusing on energy and water security, value addition, research, science and technology and modernisation.

The government, he said, was `fully committed` to the timeline of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, referring to the `Rs300 billion` allocation for activities associated with the project.

Security has been a major concern for the corridor plans.

The prime minister said the action against militants was across the board. `We will spare nobody as we choke financing for terrorism and sectarian violence and disable terrorists` logistical support systems,` he said, adding that all kinds of ethnic, communal and sectarian violence were being dealt with.

Published in Dawn