Nawaz Sharif clears haze about vital issues
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in New York, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while expressing the resolve to continue exploring prospects for the success of dialogue with TTP as decided in the APC, made it crystal clear that the Taliban would have to accept the constitution of Pakistan and lay down their arms. That should be enough to silence the critics who have been hurling unrelenting opprobrium at the government for its alleged policy of groveling to the TTP and pressing ahead for talks with them without any clear agenda or were outrightly rejecting holding of dialogue with them due to their refusal to accept the constitution of Pakistan.
It is pertinent to note that the resolution passed at the APC for trying dialogue with TTP as the first option did not preclude the possibility of use of force and establishing the writ of the state, in case the well-intentioned overtures of the government failed to achieve desired results. The prime minster was also bitterly critical of drone attacks which he said violated territorial sovereignty of Pakistan and also a great hindrance in starting a dialogue with the TTP. He impliedly suggested that despite the killing of high ranking army officers in Upper Dir and attack on a Church in Peshawar, which the Taliban have disowned, he was prepared to give a chance to the peace offensive.
The position taken by the prime minister has certainly strengthened his credentials as a statesman of high caliber who understands the complexity of the situation and makes calculated decisions instead of reacting impulsively to the events that have the potential to undermine the peace efforts, but at the same time remains determined to establish the writ of the state. That is how state affairs should be conducted.
The prime minister was also very candid on the Pak-Iran gas pipeline issue which the US has been opposing ever since it was conceived and an agreement signed with Iran. He unequivocally stated that Pakistan would go ahead with its commitment as it direly needed gas to keep its industrial machinery running. That reflects his unfaltering determination not to entertain any pressure against the interests of Pakistan. This clear-cut statement by him removes all doubts about the feasibility and implementation of the project, which besides its economic benefits will also be helpful to Pakistan in building regional linkages in line with its current narrative on foreign policy.
The prime minister also spoke at length about relations with India and his desire to see the settlement of all disputes with India including Kashmir, an end to arms race between the two countries and revival and enhancement of trade relations between the two countries to their mutual advantage. His rationale for these desired goals is beyond any reproach. What is noteworthy about his discourse on this issue is that he remains committed to the settlement of the Kashmir issue in conformity with the UN resolutions. His initiative on relations with India needs to be supported and the detractors of his endeavours in this regard must realise that Pakistan, and for that matter both the neighbours, cannot afford the continuation of hostility between them. It is in the interest of their socio-economic development as well as peace in the region dictated by the changed geo-political realities. It must be given a chance to succeed.
On Afghanistan he reiterated Pakistan’s stance to support dialogue between the US and Taliban and Taliban and the High Peace Council of Afghanistan, which Pakistan has been actively engaged in facilitating. The US has publicly acknowledged Pakistan’s role in the holding of Doha talks. Relations with Kabul have also have been recalibrated and the ambience of mistrust between the two countries diluted to a great extent. The release of the Taliban leaders, including Mullah Baradar, by Pakistan has been hailed as a serious and sincere gesture by Karzai and High Peace Council of Afghanistan. These are all encouraging portents and point towards the success of the Nawaz government in setting the ball rolling in the right direction.
Peace in Afghanistan is also inextricably linked to peace in Pakistan. A peaceful settlement in Afghanistan would go a long way in helping Pakistan to control terrorism and religious extremism within its own territory. The prime minister also emphatically dispelled any doubts on difference of opinion between his government and the military establishment. He said that the government and the military were on the same page in regards to the new initiatives on Afghanistan, relations with India and dialogue with TTP as these had been firmed up through a consultative process with all the stakeholders
Nawaz Sharif also admitted the existence of some irritants that affected Pak-US relations and expressed his desire to get them out of the way to strengthen bonds between the two countries. However he minced no words about the undesirability of the drone attacks and his resolve to take up the issue with President Obama during their ensuing meeting in October. It is hard to take an issue with his considered view that the drones not only violated the sovereignty of Pakistan but were also counterproductive in their impact by creating more terrorists. Nawaz Sharif has been very vocal on this issue during his election campaign and since assuming responsibility as prime minister of Pakistan has advocated this stance vociferously at any available forum.
The issue, unfortunately, again, is linked to the conflict in Afghanistan and the overall US strategy to tackle terrorism. Pakistan’s continued insistence on ending drone attacks through diplomatic channels – the only option available to pursue the matter – and its efforts for reconciliation process in Afghanistan are the right moves to deal with this thorny issue.
The prime minister chose the right occasion and forum to spell out clearly his vision and strategy to deal with the foregoing issues for the global and domestic elements which certainly has removed the haze that surrounded the policy initiatives of his government to resolve them.
The writer is an academic.