Pakistan and India need to resolve bilateral issues and increase trade for the betterment of the people of the two countries, PML-N President Nawaz Sharif has said.
Addressing a seminar titled ‘Building Bridges Together’ arranged by the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) in connection with Independence Day here on Saturday, Sharif said India and Pakistan had a common heritage and culture and he supported talks between the two countries to solve all problems.
Sharif, who was chief guest on the occasion, said the disputes between India and Pakistan had hurt both countries. “How terrific would it be if India built a motorway from the Wagha border crossing to Calcutta and the two countries do trade? When we constructed the motorway it was our plan to take it to Kabul via Peshawar as well as to Gwadar and Tashkent.”
He said that his government had been in talks with the Afghan president over a proposal to share costs for the roads, while he was also in discussions with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee “to resolve all problems including the problem of Jammu and Kashmir. Vajpayee even suggested announcing 1999 as the year for resolving the Kashmir dispute, but our government was toppled,” he said.
The former prime minister said that Pakistan and India should compete in economic reforms rather than weapons. “If India buys a tank Pakistan does the same. This has damaged our social sector and infrastructure,” he said.
Professor Sucha Singh Gill, director general of India’s Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development, cited a recent report by the World Bank showing that the annual growth rate of countries which suffer from internal conflicts or have bad relations with their neighbours goes down by two percent.
Gill said that the two countries needed to work together to face future challenges. “We have many common problems. One of them is climate change. When rivers go dry the irrigation systems of both our countries suffer. The energy crisis is a severe problem that we have in South Asia and for which we need to approach Central or West Asia. We need to develop common interests,” he said.
Social scientist Dr Muhammad Waseem said Pakistan should stop supporting anti-India militants. “These organisations are not an asset for us and we need to understand this,” he said.
He emphasised the need for people-to-people contact between the two countries. “We should understand the cost of failure. If India and Pakistan don’t have good relations, poverty will remain the fate of the people in both these countries,” he added.
SAFMA Secretary General Imtiaz Alam said that the dialogue process between the two countries should be uninterrupted and uninterruptible. “We have to decide whether we want the Pakistan of Jinnah or the Pakistan of Al Qaeda,” he said.
He said that a ‘peace park’ should be constructed at the Wagha border crossing in memory of those who had died during Partition. He also demanded that visa restrictions between the two countries be eliminated.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2011.