NEW YORK - Pakistan would like to make a 'new beginning' with India and would engage with whosoever comes to power after the elections in an effort to develop better relations, particularly on bilateral trade, High Commissioner Abdul Basit has said.
"We are very interested in the stability and peace of this region," he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in Mumbai.
The interview took place amid intense controversy over Pakistan's Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan's tough anti-India statement. Pakistan, Basit told the American newspaper, was eager to work with whoever forms a new government in India. "We hope whoever the new government is in New Delhi, we can engage quickly and comprehensively and meaningfully."
"Our Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s vision is very clear. We are very interested in the stability and peace of this region. Our priority is the socioeconomic development of Pakistan. The relationship with India is particularly important because of the long history of war."
Asked about Pakistan's view of Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, Basit said, "We have no view of that. It would be like jumping the gun. We will willingly and readily engage with the new government, whoever heads it."
Replying to a question, the Pakistani envoy said trade is the number one area where both of the countries could work together. Both sides, he said, could reduce their list of items on which tariffs were imposed. And both sides could reduce non-tariff barriers to trade, including visa regimes, banking facilities and communication issues.
About visa arrangements between India and Pakistan, Basit said, "I think we need to liberalize. I think the ideal situation would be where people can get a visa quickly. Right now diplomats can’t leave without prior permission. I can’t go to Gurgaon from Delhi without prior permission."
Asked about India's activities in Afghanistan, the high commissioner said, "It is not for Pakistan to tell them what kind of relationship they want. For us, the peace and stability of Afghanistan is very important. Whatever is good for Afghanistan is good for Pakistan."
PAKISTAN READY TO WORK WITH MODI: AZIZ
Monitoring Desk adds: Pakistan is ready to talk to any government elected by the Indian voters, including one headed by Narendra Modi, PM Nawaz Sharif’s advisor on security and foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz told Hindustan Times.
“We are ready to do business with any leader, including Modi,’’ Aziz said in a telephone interview from London.
Aziz’s comments are significant since they come a day after Army Chief General Raheel Sharif’s remarks, where he referred to Kashmir as Pakistan’s ‘jugular vein’.
On Wednesday, Sharif had claimed that Kashmir was an internationally-recognised dispute that needed to be resolved in accordance with the wishes of Kashmiris and in line with the United Nations’ resolution for lasting peace in the region.
The army chief’s comments were viewed by Indian strategic experts as a signal by the Army to the civilian leadership on the Kashmir issue, but when asked, Aziz denied this.
“That is our standing position. Kashmir is an issue that both Pakistan and India need to negotiate and remains on the dialogue table but if statements are made during the course of your elections about Kashmir being an atoot ang (integral part) of India, there will be reactions and responses,” Aziz said.
Backing his statement that indicated Pakistan’s willingness to work with Modi, Aziz emphasised that the last time there was any real progress between the two neighbours was “under a BJP-led government with Vajpayee as PM.’’
Vajpayee, in 1999, had undertaken a bus journey across the Wagah border to Lahore when Nawaz Sharif was the PM of Pakistan.
The two had signed the Lahore declaration in which both countries committed themselves to ‘’intensify their efforts to resolve all issues, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir’’. In the declaration, both also agreed to confidence-building measures in the nuclear and conventional military fields.
Reiterating his government’s desire for normalising ties with India, Aziz said, “Peace with India was Nawaz Sharif’s poll plank and he launched his peace mission immediately after becoming the PM. In fact, he told me that he was taking up peace as a poll issue so it will help him once he comes to power. We had a good start with Manmohan Singh and now look forward to restarting the dialogue once a new government is in place in Delhi.