Nawaz Sharif wants peaceful coexistence among South Asian countries
By Baqir Sajjad Syed
04 January 2017

ISLAMABAD (Dawn/ANN) - Sharif flaunts the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as a manifestation of his government’s desire for regional integration. 

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday stressed “peaceful coexistence” among the countries in South Asia and flaunted the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as a manifestation of his government’s desire for regional integration. 

“Peaceful coexistence, mutual respect and economically integrated region must be our shared objective and we must strive for realising this objective. This could be possible only when we demonstrate a commitment to our aspirations of peace, progress and prosperity,” Mr Sharif said while chairing a foreign policy review session following a challenging year for external relations. 

The prime minister’s quote, released to media by his office, was apparently addressed to the Indian and Afghan leadership — the two countries with which relations particularly turned sour in the past year. 

The meeting was meant to look at the state of relations with neighbouring countries both in the bilateral and multilateral contexts and strategise renewal of ties with them. Last year a Saarc summit, planned to be held in Islamabad in November, had to be cancelled after most of the member countries followed India in pulling out of the event. The cancellation was a major setback for Pakistan’s foreign policy as it showed the country to be regionally isolated. 

The government is contemplating a move to reach out to Saarc member countries for a reset after the summit snub. 

Sharif, speaking at the meeting, vowed to establish “strong and mutually beneficial relations with countries of the region”. 

Officials here expressed the hope that India would lower tensions with Pakistan after the upcoming elections in some of its states. As always, the Pakistani assessment is that the slide in relations was linked to the electioneering in India. 

But a rapprochement could be difficult as long as the situation in India-held Kashmir remains tense. The sharp deterioration in Pak-India ties had started in July following the start of an uprising in the held Valley. 

Relations with Afghanistan are the other major concern. 

Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa called Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other leaders on the eve of New Year to extend his greetings. The outreach potentially provided an opportunity for restarting engagement and Gen Bajwa was instantly invited to visit Kabul. 

The failure of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group process for reconciliation in Afghanistan and a major Haqqani network attack on a National Directorate of Security building in Kabul on April 19, 2016, induced a negative cycle in the relationship. Tensions were further inflamed by a row over construction of a border gate at Torkham by Pakistan, which led to a major exchange between the two and military casualties on both sides, and contentious issues relating to repatriation of Afghan refugees. 

There were also differences over transit trade, with Afghanistan insisting on trading with India through the Wagah border crossing. Kabul was, in the meantime, seen getting deeper into Delhi’s embrace. 

It is expected that the Pakistan government could take a few steps to pacify Kabul. 

Additionally, the meeting took stock of the relations with the United States and the strategy for engaging with the Trump administration after the transition is completed on January 20. 

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