Prime Minister Imran Khan has reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to regional and global peace, saying Islamabad “hopes to spend more on human development than on purchasing arms”.
In an interview with Russia news agency, Sputnik, the premier said Pakistan believed that progress comes with peace and was willing to pursue all options – including international mediation – to resolve issues with its neighbours. “Pakistan is looking for any kind of mediation because Pakistan believes that progress comes with peace. When you have tensions with your neighbours, it detracts from resources that could be spent on human beings. They end up getting spent on unproductive things like arms,” said the PM.
“And so we believe in peace with all the neighbours, especially with India … It is my belief that the money should be spent on getting people out of poverty like China got millions and millions of people out of poverty. And so our emphasis should be peace, resolving our differences through dialogue.”
Elaborating on Islamabad’s efforts for peace with New Delhi, the premier said Pakistan has repeatedly conveyed its willingness to talk. “There is no way two nuclear-armed countries should think of resolving differences through military means. It is madness. Now that the [Indian] elections are over we hope that the Indian leadership will grasp this opportunity that Pakistan is offering — that let’s resolve all our differences through dialogue.”
“We hope now that the current prime minister [Narendra Modi] has one big mandate, we hope that he will use this mandate to develop a better relationship and bring peace in the subcontinent.”
Delving further on the matter, PM Imran said peace among India and Pakistan was entirely dependent on the issue of Kashmir. “The only difference, if we resolve that there will be peace in the subcontinent, that’s Kashmir. Unfortunately, Kashmir can only be resolved if the people of Kashmir are given the right of self-determination, which was guaranteed to them by the United Nations in 1945.”
“This use of force by the Indian government to subdue has backfired. The more force there has been used, the more the people of Kashmir have turned against the Indian government, the more radicalisation has come in the young people of Kashmir. And it is a future source of destabilisation of the continent. That’s why it is very important to resolve the Kashmir issue.”
‘Contacts with Russia developing all the time’
The prime minister also spoke on Pakistan’s plans to further strengthen cooperation between Moscow and Islamabad. “We have developed cooperation with Russia between our defense forces … and hope to deepen our contacts.”
“Most of the 50s, 60s, 70s were spent in the Cold War region, where India was close to the Soviet Union, and Pakistan was close to the United States. We were in different camps. Now things have changed … It is refreshing that we have developed our contacts with Russia, and they are developing all the time,” he said.
To a question on whether Islamabad intends to purchase weapons from Moscow, the premier said the Pakistani and Russian militaries were already coordinating on the matter. “First, we hope that our tension with India decreases, so we do not have to buy arms because we want to spend money on human development. But, yes, we are looking for arms from Russia, and I know our military is already in touch with the Russian military,” said the PM.
Apart from military cooperation, Imran said Pakistan was also exploring trade and investment opportunities with Russia. “We have exchanges, we develop more contacts, we improve our trade. Russia is an energy-surplus country. Pakistan has shortages in energy, so we hope to talk on those areas. We already are. Apart from defense, we want to also improve our trade in other areas with Russia.”
“We hope our trade delegations will soon go to Russia. We will invite Russian trade delegations here, get them opportunities to invest in Pakistan. I do believe that there is a Russian steel company, which is looking to invest in our steel mill in Karachi. In fact, it was made by Russia … So we hope that we will start expanding areas of cooperation, and we will explore areas of strength, where we would love them [Russia] to come and invest in Pakistan.”
The premier said he “would love to visit Russia” and was hoping to meet President Putin.
‘Regional collaboration only way forward’
Elaborating on what Pakistan intends to achieve from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Bishkek, the premier said the primary goal was to improve bilateral ties. “Previously, Pakistan’s orientation was more towards the West. Now Pakistan is looking to diversify, find new markets or different relationships with those countries, which we had very nominal relationships [with] before. The SCO countries provide us [with] these fresh outlets and developing our relationship with these countries … And, yes, it will be an opportunity to speak to the Indian leadership during this SCO conference.”
He also spoke about the plans to construct a rail network connecting Uzbekistan, Russia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. “I think this is a tremendous project because connectivity between Pakistan going on through Afghanistan to Uzbekistan, to Russia will open up this whole region. And then, remember, from there it will go from Pakistan right down to Gwadar, which is the shortest route to the ocean. So it will open up the whole area.”
“The difference is that we cannot give a timeline, because it depends on the amount of funds — can we generate enough funds for this railway. Secondly, it depends upon peace in Afghanistan. Although I believe that all, even the Taliban and the Afghan government, all feel that this railway is important for the future of Afghanistan. So mainly it is the question of having the funds, but this is a great project for the future of the whole area, the whole region,” said PM Imran.
The Afghanistan conundrum
The premier also focused on ongoing peace efforts in Afghanistan and his approach to the matter since assuming office. “I’ve had a meeting with President Ghani in Saudi Arabia, just a week or so ago. We had a very good conversation, we talked about how Pakistan help Afghanistan in resolving the issue about the civil war that is going on there, how we can get the Taliban to talk to the Afghan government and how there can be peace in Afghanistan. So it is in the interest of Pakistan and Afghanistan for there to be peace in Afghanistan.”
He stressed that Pakistan “will be trying everything and is trying everything” to help achieve peace. “They [the Taliban] are already talking to the Americans, and we hope that the Taliban will then talk to the Afghan government so that there is peace. And this is something we crave in Pakistan.”
On Russia’s efforts in Afghanistan, the prime minister said the talks hosted in Moscow between the Taliban and various members of Afghan political parties were “a very positive thing”.
“I think Moscow has a role to play, Moscow has influence in areas of Afghanistan. In fact, all the neighbors should help to bring about peace and stability in Afghanistan.
A messenger of peace
The prime minister concluded the interview with an appeal for peace and global unity. “I would say what I’ve just always believed in — that the world should move towards improving trade, helping the poor people of this world. The world should combine together to end poverty. It should reduce these tensions in the world … And I’m a pacifist, who believes that the military is no way of resolving issues in this world. And Pakistan has suffered a lot in these last 10-15 years after joining the US war on terror. And we’ve suffered a lot.”
“Our country lost over 70,000 people and billions of dollars are lost to the economy. So my government believes that we want to be a country, which will bring countries together, which will play a part in reconciling differences between countries.”
PM Imran asserted that Pakistan “would never want to be part of any war coalitions”. “We want to play a part in bringing countries together, and peace, and trade, so that we can have more harmony in this world. So I am an idealist and that is what I believe.”