Pakistan earned some rare and unexpected praise on Friday when US Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and appreciated Islamabad’s policy of exercising restraint amid the ongoing tensions and border flare-up with New Delhi.
Although, the PM House did not share details of the phone conversation with the media, officials told The Express Tribune that the discussion between the two concentrated on the strained relations between the neighbours.
Washington is increasingly worried about the worsening relations between Islamabad and New Delhi, as it fears that a revival of hostilities between the South Asian rivals would have a direct bearing on the peace prospects in neighbouring Afghanistan, said officials.
Prime Minister Nawaz told the US secretary of state that his government was following the policy of ‘restraint and responsibility’ in the larger interest of peace in the region. “Pakistan could have responded aggressively to Indian provocations but it decided not to do so,” Nawaz was quoted by officials as telling John Kerry. “We are seeking dialogue with India, because we believe it is the best possible way to resolve issues,” the prime minister explained.
There have been a series of ceasefire violations along the Line of Control (LoC) since early August that have resulted in the killing of Indian and Pakistani troops. Civilians have also been injured as a result of the mortar shelling and shooting across the ceasefire line.
At least three Pakistani soldiers including a captain were killed and four others injured during the last 72 hours due to ‘unprovoked firing’ by Indian troops. Earlier, on August 6, India accused Pakistan of breaching the LoC and ambushing an Indian Army patrol, killing five soldiers. Pakistan denies any involvement.
Despite there being no let-up in the tensions, Nawaz reiterated his call for dialogue with India. On Friday, Islamabad ordered the release of 364 Indian prisoners who will be repatriated to their country within the next 24 hours.
In an interview with the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, Nawaz said he sees his election victory as a mandate for peace with India. He emphasised on the need for reconciliation with Pakistan’s “oldest enemy”.
“There will be progress and there has to be progress,” Nawaz emphatically said in the interview. “If we have to prosper, there has to be progress on this [issue].”
Nawaz also called for an end to the “unfortunate arms race” between the two countries. “The money wasted in defence should have gone into social sectors – it should have gone into education, it should have gone into health care,” he added.
“We didn’t have any India-bashing slogans in the elections. We don’t believe in such slogans. There have been such slogans in the past — 10 years ago, 20 years ago — but not now. In fact, I very clearly spoke about good relations with India even before the elections.”
He went on to say: “I made my position very clear: if we get a mandate, we will make sure we pick up the threads from where we left off in 1999 and then reach out to India, sit with them, resolve all our outstanding issues, including the issue of Kashmir, through peaceful means.”
“I hope that both countries realise these mistakes that we’ve made. I think the main objective of making peace with each other is to get rid of all that. We’ve got to sit with India and discuss this matter.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2013.