Islamabad, Aug. 19: Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif today offered to hold talks with India and called for better relations between the neighbours, saying they needed to “sit together” to wage war against a common blight.
“Pakistan and India will have to sit together to rid their people of poverty, hunger and backwardness and this is the responsibility of the leadership of the two countries,” he said in a televised address to the nation.
The conciliatory gesture came amid heightening tensions along the Line of Control, where each side has accused the other of violating a ceasefire they had agreed to in 2003.
India has said “specialist troops” of the Pakistan Army were involved in the killing of five soldiers early this month on the LoC while Islamabad has accused Indian troops of shelling its positions across the de-facto border.
Sharif said the wars the two countries have fought had pushed them back decades. “I have made better relations with India my priority. And in the May election, the nation stood by me,” he said, referring to his victory in the recent polls.
“Wars between India and Pakistan have put us behind decades. Now we should not be fighting one another but come together to fight poverty and illiteracy.”
Sharif, who is scheduled to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York next month, described Kashmir as Pakistan’s “jugular vein”, an issue whose resolution was as dear to him as every Pakistani.
The Pakistan Prime Minister, whose government has decided to step up back-channel diplomacy to reduce tensions with India, has asked his special envoy, ambassador Shahryar Khan, to touch base with his counterpart S.K. Lambah to try and salvage the fragile peace process.
Sources said the meeting could take place in a third country, most probably in the United Arab Emirates.
Diplomatic sources said Sharif gave the go-ahead for the initiative and set the ball rolling by asking Shahryar, who was in London at the time, to establish contact with Lambah.
Foreign ministry officials said they were not aware of the venue of the proposed Shahryar-Lambah meeting but a local English newspaper, The Nation, said the tryst was expected to take place in a third country.
The daily added that the likeliest venue was the UAE, which was also the theatre of India-Pakistan track II diplomacy during Pervez Musharraf’s rule.
Lambah had met Sharif in Lahore shortly after the May general election with a letter of felicitation from Singh in which the Indian Prime Minister said he was looking forward to working with his Pakistani counterpart.
Shahryar’s main task is to conduct the track II diplomacy and give impetus to the dialogue process. On July 5, he had gone to Delhi to present Sharif’s letter of goodwill to Singh.
The channels of communication remain open at the official and military levels despite the recent ceasefire violations across the LoC.
Foreign office spokesperson Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry told reporters here on Friday that Islamabad was exploring all avenues, including diplomatic and military channels, to ensure tension-free ties with New Delhi.