Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says improving ties with India is “my favourite subject” even as he once again sought America’s intervention in the Kashmir issue
He recalls his historic meeting with former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Lahore in 1999, where he says both sides agreed to resolve the Kashmir issue
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is in Washington on a four-day visit, which will culminate in a summit meeting at the White House with President Obama on Wednesday, has said that improving Pakistan’s relations with India is “my favourite subject.”
After a major address at the United States Institute for Peace on Tuesday, Sharif harked back nostalgically to his historic meeting with erstwhile Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Lahore, where he claimed both sides had agreed to resolve the Kashmir issue, but had unfortunately been derailed by then General Pervez Musharraf who ousted him in a military-led coup.
Asked by moderator Stephen Hadley, former national security advisor in the Bush administration and now a member of the USIP board, what his vision was vis-à-vis improving the India-Pakistan relationship and particularly if there was a formula to bring peace to Kashmir, Sharif said it was “my government that paved the way in the 1990s and laid the foundation for building better relations with India”.
He said, “Vajpayee was very kind to undertake the first-ever state visit to Pakistan in 1998, and this was soon after the nuclear detonations by India and subsequently followed by Pakistan.”
“And that was a very successful visit -- both of us sat across the table and decided that we will resolve all our outstanding issues through negotiation, through peaceful means and through talks.”
Sharif noted, “That was a major breakthrough when also Kashmir was mentioned very categorically in that agreement that we both signed,” and reiterated “I was very pleasantly surprised by the statement of Mr Vajpayee in Lahore that ‘Mr Nawaz Sharif, let us announce…let us declare 1999 as the year of the resolution of all problems that exist between Pakistan and India, including the issue of Kashmir’.”
“I was pleasantly surprised to hear that, and then, we both started working for it -- we established back channels …”
But Sharif bemoaned that “the whole process was derailed by Musharraf, who toppled our government unconstitutionally and imposed martial law in the country and then you know what he did to the country -- even fired the judges, sent them home, house arrested them. And then, we are the ones who had to struggle for the reinstatement of those judges who were unconstitutionally fired and thrown out -- thrown out of office by Musharraf.”
But the Pakistan PM has pledged “to pick up the threads from where we left off in 1999 and then move forward,” and recalled what he described as “a good meeting with Manmohan Singh in New York last month and we discussed all the issues.”
But Sharif lamented, “Whenever we want to move forward, something happens and then the process again gets a serious setback. For example, when we were about the meet in New York -- just weeks and days before that meeting -- there were clashes on the Line of Control, people getting killed from both sides, our side, their side. And then, we’ve also been in a very unfortunate arms race since the partition -- for almost 66 years. So, we’ve wasted all our resources.”
He argued that he believed it was imperative “to get out of this situation and I believe very strongly that both countries will have to sit down together, and if we sit down together -- if we seriously address these issues -- I don’t think we will face any problem in addressing and solving these issues.”
However, Sharif acknowledged, “Kashmir, of course, is a very difficult issue and very difficult to resolve, but I think by sitting and talking we will be able to find some way of resolving that too because that is a flashpoint in not only the region but also in the whole world.”
“And then, any solution which can come about will not be able to come about, unless and until the people of all three sides put their endorsement to this -- the people of India, the people of Pakistan, and the people of Kashmir.”
Image: Pakistani Prime Minisater Nawaz Sharif talks to his Indian counterpart Atal Behari Vajpayee at a reception in Lahore in February 1999