Washington, Oct 23- Rejecting the assertion that Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif today asked the US to help his country resolve its outstanding issues with India, including the “core” dispute of Kashmir.
On the eve of his meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House, Sharif contended the US was well placed to resolve the differences because of its growing relationship with India. His insistence on American mediation on Kashmir came despite the rejection of such a move by both the US and India.
Addressing the think tank US Institute of Pakistan (USIP) here, Sharif said Pakistan is “neither a source of, nor the epicentre of terrorism, as is sometimes alleged”.
“In fact, Pakistan itself has been a major victim of terrorism for over a decade,” he said. Sharif acknowledged that the greatest challenge to Pakistan comes from terrorism and extremism.
His remarks were an apparent response to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s assertion during a meeting with Obama last month that Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism in India’s neighbourhood.
Reiterating his call for American mediation to resolve issues with India, Sharif said, “With its growing influence in India, the US now has the capacity to do more to help the two sides resolve their core disputes, including Kashmir, and in promoting a culture of cooperation.”
Pakistan, he said, appreciates the constructive role the US has “historically played in defusing tensions between Pakistan and India”.
Earlier this week, Sharif’s call for US intervention on the Kashmir issue was roundly dismissed by India, which said no one should question Jammu and Kashmir’s status as an integral part of the country. The US said there had not been an “iota of change” in its policy and the the dispute was a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan.
During his speech, Sharif played up Pakistan’s stated position that the Kashmir issue is a regional “flashpoint”.
“Kashmir, of course, is a very difficult issue and very difficult to resolve, but I think by sitting and talking, we will be able to find some way of resolving that too, because that is a flashpoint not only in the region but in the whole world,” he said.
“Any solution which can come about will not be able to come about unless and until the people of all three sides put their endorsement to this — the people of India, people of Pakistan and the people of Kashmir.”
Sharif said his government is firmly resolved to end the cycle of violence in Pakistan but this “cannot be done overnight, nor can it be done by unleashing senseless force against its citizens, without first making every effort to bring the misguided and confused elements of society back to the mainstream”.
Informing the audience about steps taken by his government to establish lasting peace with India, Sharif said the two countries share a common history and a common destiny.
“Our past and our future are intertwined. Pakistan is happy to see the people of India live in peace and security,” he said.
“The people of Pakistan want to resolve all our standing issues with India through dialogue and negotiations. We are confident that there are areas where we can make quick progress.”
Responding to a question, Sharif rued that whenever there is a peace effort, there is also an effort to derail it.
“Whenever we want to move forward, something happens, and then the process again gets a serious setback,” he said.
“For example, when we were about to meet in New York, just weeks and days before that meeting, there were clashes on the line of control, people getting killed from both sides — our side, their side.
Pakistan would like to pick up the thread “from where we left in 1999”, Sharif said, referring to the peace initiative he had started with then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
He added he had a “very good meeting” with Singh in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month.
“We also wish to put ourselves on the path for normalising trade relations with India. My meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last month in New York reflected this desire,” he said.
“And I’m confident that we can overcome challenges and find solutions to all issues as long as we stay engaged. In any case, we do not want isolated incidents to interrupt our dialogue,” he insisted.
“Our message is simple: future prosperity and economic development in South Asia depends on peace and security in the region.”
It is time for the two countries to address their bilateral issues with seriousness to avail of a historic opportunity to devote their energies and resources to development and betterment of their teeming millions, he said.
“Had our two countries not wasted their precious resources in a never-ending arms race, we would not only have avoided the futile conflicts, but also emerged as stable and prosperous nations,” he said.
“We would not be found wanting in walking the extra mile.
Our dream is to realise the potential of mutually beneficial economic cooperation at the bilateral level as well as the broader regional level under SAARC,” he said.
“Even more promising are the prospects of inter-regional cooperation…There is a huge potential for inter-regional trade, transit and connectivity,” he added.
“I believe that by talking we can…we want to enhance our trade with India, our economic relations with India, and there is so much that we can do together by enhancing our trade and economic ties with each other,” Sharif said.
He added that the two countries had been in a “very unfortunate arms Race” for almost 66 years. “So we’ve wasted all of this,” he said.
“I believe that we need to get out of this situation, and I believe very strongly that both countries, of course, will have to sit down together. And if we sit down together — if we seriously address these issues, I don’t think we will face any problem in addressing these and solving these issues,” Sharif said.