India, Pakistan should clinch all issues: Sharif

May 15th, 2008 - 5:11 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Nawaz Sharif

New Delhi, May 15 (IANS) Ahead of talks between India and Pakistan next week, former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif has struck an upbeat note saying both sides should “seize the opportunity to clinch all issues” and abolish the restrictive visa regime. Underlining cross-party consensus on building better bilateral ties, Sharif, whose party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supports the ruling coalition, said both Asif Ali Zardari, co-chair of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and he were together on India-Pakistan relations.

“We have no problem and we will move forward and both sides feel similarly. You know my views on building a better relationship with India. We are committed,” Sharif told Tehelka magazine in an interview.

“Both leaderships should now be looking forward to talking to each other,” he said, setting a positive tone for talks between foreign secretaries and foreign ministers of India and Pakistan May 20-21.

“And this window of opportunity has opened once again and we should make use of it, seize the opportunity and simply clinch all the issues,” Sharif said.

“Frankly, it’s not easy but if we have that political will, we can make progress,” he said, indicating the positive attitude of the new dispensation in Pakistan on promoting better relations with India.

In a sign of new thinking in Pakistan about improving relations with India, Sharif made a vigorous pitch for abolishing the restrictive visa regime - a key hindrance in free travel between the two countries.

“I want to abolish the visa regime in both the countries. I think if you don’t do it on a reciprocal basis, we might do it unilaterally,” said Sharif.

If the proposal sees the light of day, it could lead to a dramatic increase in contacts between people of the two countries who are overwhelmingly in favour of peace and minimize chances of conflict.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will hold talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi on a wide range of issues, including confidence-building measures aimed at promoting cross-border trade and travel, terrorism and Jammu and Kashmir.

This will be preceded by talks between Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir to review the fourth round of composite dialogue between the two countries.

Sharif also rebutted speculation about the prospects of a split between the PPP and PML-N on the contentious issue of the restoration of judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf last year.

The talks between Sharif and Zardari on the issue ended in a stalemate last week which led to Sharif withdrawing ministers belonging to his party from the government.

“It is no doubt a setback but our decision to still support the coalition and to be their partners in parliament, if not in the cabinet, is because we don’t want to rock the boat,” Sharif replied when asked whether he felt let down by Zardari.

“We don’t want to destabilise the democratic process which we have worked hard at restoring,” he said.

Sharif, however, said he was still hopeful of resolving the deadlock over the judges issue. “We are still hoping that we will at least be able to say goodbye to dictatorship and restore genuine democracy.”

Allaying anxieties about instability of the present coalition in Pakistan, he said both he and Zardari have common interest in ending dictatorship.

“We cannot afford to strengthen the hands of a dictator who has all the time been trying to hatch conspiracies ever since the election results were announced.

“He is still behaving like a military dictator and not a president. We both have the powers and the ability and the opportunity to strip Musharraf,” he said.

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