NEW YORK    -    As the US-China relations grow increasingly tense over Taiwan, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif says Pakistan will be “happy” to play a positive role to bridge their differences in the interest of peace and stability in the world, if the two parties so desire.

“If China and the US so desire, Pakistan would be happy to play a positive role to bridge their differences, as we had done in the past,” he said in response to a question during a wide-ranging interview with Newsweek, while referring to Islamabad’s pivotal role in bringing the two countries together for talks that served as the foundation for their modern relationship.

Newsweek Senior’s Foreign Policy Writer Tom O’Connor, who conducted the interview via e-mail, pointed out that the Pakistani leader spoke about the need for greater international cooperation, the role Pakistan could play in preventing the world from sliding into an ever deeper set of crises, and other key issues.

PM Sharif not only expressed his views on the stark deterioration of relations between the United States and China, but also on his stance about Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

Closer to home, Sharif discussed the turmoil plaguing neighbouring Afghanistan, the unresolved Kashmir dispute, and an uptick in militant attacks within Pakistan’s own borders that threatens its own national security at a time of domestic political challenges.

“The present government is truly national in nature,” Sharif said, referring to the coming together of the country’s all political force on an agreed-upon national agenda of economic reform and stabilization.

In the interview, he said Pakistan has traditionally maintained good relations with China and the United States, pointing out that historically, it was Pakistan that acted as a bridge in opening up the relationship between the two countries.

Pakistan continues to highlight the need for avoidance of a confrontational approach, he said, adding that bloc politics and any drift towards cold war will not produce any positive results, and in fact would be counterproductive for growth and stability.

“Pakistan strongly believes that inter-state relations should be based on mutual respect and peaceful resolution of disputes by upholding the principles of the UN charter and international law.”

The prime minister said that polarization would have serious consequences for the global economy afflicted by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine crisis. The developing countries, like Pakistan, are already suffering from external shocks to their socioeconomic well-being, and do not desire aggravation of these challenges induced by major power rivalry.

Replying to a question, he said Pakistan desires to build a broad-based and sustainable partnership with the United States on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit.

“We encourage major US companies to invest in Pakistan’s lucrative market and enhance commercial ties, particularly in its growing IT sector,” PM Sharif said.” There is a strong Pakistani Diaspora in the US that is acting as a bridge to deepen the ties between our two countries and the people.

On tensions with India, the prime minister said Pakistan desires good relations with all neighbours, but New Delhi’s India’s illegal and unilateral actions of August 5, 2019 in IIOJK [Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir] were a huge setback to Islamabad’s efforts to build regional peace.

Here is the transcript of the interview:

Newsweek: Transitions of power are always difficult, as the US itself experienced just last year. Former prime minister Imran Khan’s departure was acrimonious and divisive for Pakistan. What is your plan to bring your nation together, to unite behind your leadership and look toward the future?

PM: What we need to understand first of all is the fact that the change of the government took place through a constitutional process. All political forces of the country minus Imran Khan’s PTI [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf] came together to form this vastly representative government to take on the most urgent issues facing the people.

In terms of the vote cast in the previous General Elections of 2018, the political parties that are part of the coalition government represent 70 percent of the electorate. The present government is truly national in nature.

Newsweek: Pakistan has long called for improving relations between Islamabad and Washington, yet there have been a number of negative developments on this front in recent years. How do you view the importance of this relationship, in what direction is it headed, and what challenges remain?

PM: Pakistan and the US have a longstanding relationship encompassing diverse areas of common interest. It is our endeavor to build a broad-based and sustainable partnership on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit.

We have instituted dialogues in the areas of health, energy, climate, investment and trade. These dialogues are playing an important role in strengthening our bilateral ties. Most recently, we held the health dialogue with the US, which will help facilitate more bilateral cooperation in the health sector. We also hope for the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Ministerial level meeting this year.

Newsweek: Pakistan has traditionally enjoyed a close relationship with China, but today heightened friction between China and the United States is having global repercussions. Are you concerned about the ability of these two countries to manage their relations peacefully, and what a potential worsening in their tensions, or even a clash, could mean for Pakistan and the rest of the world, especially if nations were asked to choose sides?

PM: While the Pakistan-China relationship is very special, Pakistan and the US have also maintained a longstanding historic bilateral relationship which covers all issues of mutual interest.

We believe that constructive engagement with all countries can promote peace and security as well as development and connectivity in the whole region. We look forward to remaining engaged with the international community for peace and stability in the region and beyond.

Conflict or crisis anywhere in the world has negative consequences for global peace, security and economy; particularly for the developing countries.

The world can ill-afford descent into another era of Cold War or bloc politics. I believe polarization would have serious consequences for the global economy afflicted by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine crisis. The developing countries, like Pakistan, are already suffering from external shocks to their socioeconomic well-being, and do not desire aggravation of these challenges induced by major power rivalry.

It is our considered view that cooperation, not confrontation, should be the main driver of international relations. Ways should be found to address concerns through mutual understanding, mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win solutions.

Newsweek: Pakistan played a pivotal role in bringing China and the United States together half a century ago for talks that served as the foundation for their modern relationship. Can Pakistan play a similar role as it did in the past in de-escalating tensions between these two powers?

PM: Pakistan’s foreign policy is one of friendliness and goodwill towards all the nations of the world. Pakistan has traditionally maintained good relations with China and the United States. Historically, it was Pakistan that acted as a bridge in opening up the relationship between the United States and the Peoples’ Republic of China.

Pakistan continues to highlight the need for avoidance of a confrontational approach. Bloc politics and any drift towards cold war will not produce any positive results, and in fact would be counterproductive for growth and stability.

Pakistan strongly believes that inter-state relations should be based on mutual respect and peaceful resolution of disputes by upholding the principles of the UN charter and international law.

If China and the US so desire, Pakistan would be happy to play a positive role to bridge their differences, as we had done in the past.

Newsweek: It’s been exactly one year since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, and the nation continues to suffer from a range of issues in realms such as economics, security and human rights. As a neighbouring country that has a unique relationship with the Taliban, how does Pakistan evaluate the leadership of the Islamic Emirate, and what can Pakistan and the international community can do to continue supporting the Afghan people, who are suffering greatly, when the winter season will soon be upon us?

PM: If we review what has happened in the one year since August 15, 2021, the initial priorities for the international community were avoidance of protracted conflict, ensuring safe evacuation of personnel of international organizations, regulating the flow of migrants, and ensuring timely and effective humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, especially in the wake of the last winter season.

Despite initial fears, these matters were handled in a relatively satisfactory manner through continuous and practical engagement of the international community, the neighbours of Afghanistan and efforts of the Interim Afghan Government.

In view of the continued precarious and humanitarian and economic situation, our message to the international community would be to remain engaged, continue to assist the Interim Government in key social and economic areas, and unfreeze Afghanistan’s financial assets to help build a sustainable economy. These are the international community’s expectations as well. We will continue to impress upon the Interim Afghan Government the importance of taking demonstrable actions on its commitments including those relating to inclusivity, respect for human rights of all Afghans, including girls’ education, and effective counter-terrorism action.

Newsweek: Elsewhere on Pakistan’s frontiers, the conflict over Kashmir continues, and relations with India have suffered greatly in recent years. What are your plans to improve this dynamic, and is India’s growing rapprochement with the United States and the Quad coalition of concern to you?

PM:  Pakistan desires good relations with all neighbours’ including India. India’s illegal and unilateral actions of August 5, 2019 in IIOJK [Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir] were a huge setback to our efforts to build regional peace. While India is perpetuating its brutal military occupation of the valley through draconian laws, partisan judiciary and strong-arm tactics, including flagrant use of brute force and attempts to illegally change the demographic structure of the occupied territory, it is also bent on disrupting the stability in the region through its hegemonic ambitions.

Pakistan supports building of an equitable, open and inclusive Asia-Pacific community in the spirit to promote peace, stability and prosperity. Furthermore, we believe that creation of blocs in Asia-Pacific will only incite divisions and confrontations, exacerbate the arms race and lead to instability in the region and beyond.