In an interview to Karan Thapar days before the elections in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, who is poised to become the Prime Minister after his party’s victory, spoke on a range of issues. Excerpts:
On civil-military relations
The Army is an attached department of the federal government and of course the Chief of Army staff works under the federal government and implements the policies of the federal government.
That is what the constitution says, that is what the law says and that is what the mandate is of the federal government.
On giving Gen. Kayani an extension after his November 2013 retirement
I don’t think he will ask [for] any further extension or he will be interested in any further extension. I will go by the book; I will go by the merit. Whosoever is the senior most, will have to occupy this job.
On tackling terrorism and militancy in Pakistan
We have got to solve this problem, this is a problem which is hampering our economy, which is very badly effecting our economy. The economy is suffering very badly. You can’t really solve all the problems through guns and bullets, you [have] got to also explore other options. Options of engagement, may be those options work, in many countries, problems have been solved by sitting across the table.
We will have to have all the stakeholders sitting on the table, discuss the matter with them openly, candidly and very frankly and arrive at a policy and a strategy that is workable. And I think all those forces inside Pakistan, outside Pakistan will also have to be invited and we must then listen to each other’s concerns, address them and pave the way for a solution to this problem.
On ties with India
Should have never been a problem. We have issues of course which need to be resolved and I can quote you a lot of examples where countries opposed to each other have resolved much difficult problems than we have.
We will start from where we were interrupted in 1999. Vajpayee sahab came to Pakistan. We signed that historic Lahore accord. He said very good things about Pakistan, which I still have in my memory and I also reciprocated and I think those times must come back again and then he said while we signed the document, he said to the press that we will solve problems peacefully sitting across table and we will address all our problems and solve them including the issue of Kashmir, and let me tell you he privately said to me which of course I have said many times – ‘Nawaz Sharif sahab why can’t we declare the year 1999 as the resolution of all the problems between Pakistan and India?’ So he said a very good thing.
If we get the chance to serve this country … This will be one of our main priorities and we also had the honour of his predecessors, Mr. Narasimha Rao.
On terrorism against India emanating from Pakistan
I think we must never allow our territories to be used by [terrorist] elements and these are the ones who deliberately want to spoil the relationship.
I think both countries should take these steps because when something happens here, we also tend to have our suspicions on India that may be India has done that. Anything happening there, of course the fingers are pointed towards Pakistan. So can’t we stop that? … we have to stop it, if we are civilised nations, if we have to live as good neighbours, if we want to have good, close and very friendly ties, we got to say good bye to all such policies.
On the 2008 Mumbai attack
if you look at my statements or my interviews immediately after the Mumbai killings, I was very clear in saying that let there be a joint commission of investigation and let the two countries sit together, exchange information, whatever they have on this particular issue and then agree to investigate jointly and then pursue the matter jointly. I think no progress was made towards this suggestion that I made. Had there been any progress on this, I think that the situation would have been totally different.
I will take up this [proposal]. Certainly this matter will have to be taken up.
On the delays in the Mumbai attack trial in Pakistan
We will get in touch with our counterparts in India. We will listen to their grievances, we will listen to their complaints because I am talking of my party as an opposition party was never taken into confidence although we have spent five years in Parliament. This question [of lack of progress in the case] was never allowed to come in Parliament and the government never took us into confidence. But if we go into the office, we will look up those files which are there.
On the Kashmir issue
It is a very important issue. I think this is an issue that does not let us move forward in the manner that we really want to move forward. So I think this issue needs to be resolved, resolved peacefully, resolved to the satisfaction of not only both countries but also the satisfaction of the Kashmiri people. So I think all the three parties must have full satisfaction that the issue is being resolved.
I think we don’t see [Kashmir] as an obstacle. Pakistan is certainly moving forward on trade and on the other ties that we have with each other. So I don’t think Pakistan is taking it in that fashion. But India should also pay or appear to be paying attention to the problem of Kashmir and get this problem out of this way, solve it out the satisfaction of all the three parties and if that can be done, what is the harm? If India is also satisfied, Pakistan is satisfied and so the people of Kashmir. I think we should be looking forward to exploring such an avenue.
And that reminds me; we set up a back channel, I and Mr. Vajpayee.
I think [the back channel] must be re activated because I think that back channel was very useful, I used to meet my man once a week and I was told that the Indian Prime Minister would meet his man once a week and those two people were meeting very frequently with each other. So that was working.
Our stated positions [for resolution of the Kashmir issue in accordance with U.N. resolutions and with the aspirations for the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination] are like that. We have stated positions for the last 60 to 65 years and so does India. India also says that Kashmir hamara attot ang hai and at the summit in 1999, the Lahore declaration was in a different atmosphere. It said that both countries agreed to solve the issue of Kashmir by sitting across the table peacefully. So the need is to pick up threads from where we left in 1999 and take it forward.
On striking a rapport with PM Manmohan Singh
Certainly, it will be a pleasure to visit India, my personal privilege to visit India and we are also looking forward to the visit of Mr Manmohan Singh to Pakistan. Pakistan is the place where he was born and therefore and we will be very happy to exchange these visits and through you Karan Sahab and through your channel I would like to extend my warm feelings and good wishes to the people of India.
A message to India and Indians
The message to my friends in India that we have a lot of love and affection for you all. We must become good friends and hold each other’s hands … let us make a new beginning, let us sit down together and let us resolve that we will from now onwards resolve all our outstanding issues peacefully and in a very friendly manner, in a very friendly atmosphere.
(The interview was aired on CNN-IBN’s “Devil’s Advocate” last week.)