August 2, 2023
ISLAMABAD – Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday said Pakistan was ready to hold talks with its “neighbour” on serious issues as wars were not an option anymore.
“We are prepared to talk to them, provided that the neighbour is serious to talk [on] serious matters … because war is no more an option,” he said in an apparent reference to India while addressing a summit on mineral development in Islamabad.
The premier further stated that “Pakistan is, thanks to God, is a nuclear power — not as an aggressor, but for our defence purposes.
“And God forbid if there is a nuclear flashpoint, who will live to tell what happened? So war is not an option.”
The prime minister pointed out that Pakistan had fought three wars in the last 75 years, which resulted in more poverty and a lack of resources. These resources, he said, could have otherwise been spent on the development and prosperity of the people.
“Is this the way that we adopt or have economic competition?”
But, he reasserted, the “neighbour has to understand that we cannot become normal neighbours unless abnormalities are removed, unless our serious issues are understood and addressed through peaceful and meaningful discussions”.
The premier’s remarks, it appeared, were made in relevance to India, with which Pakistan has shared tumultuous relations since both countries gained independence in 1947.
In the recent past, Pakistan suspended ties with India following New Delhi’s unilateral move to revoke occupied Kashmir’s special autonomy on August 5, 2019.
In response to India’s move, Pakistan had asked then-Indian high commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria to leave and put an end to bilateral trade. Islamabad also made any future engagement with India contingent on the latter’s reversal of its August 5 decision.
The deadlock has persisted since then.
In January this year, PM Shehbaz “conditionally” offered talks to India on all outstanding issues but the response from New Delhi was that “the atmosphere for dialogue is not conducive yet”.
Besides India, PM Shehbaz also expressed the desire to have friendly relations with the United States in his today’s address.
“We want to work with Americans. We want to have the best of relations with them as in the past, based on mutual respect and trust [and in which] we don’t try to deceive each other,” he said.
In fact, he continued, Pakistan wanted good relations with all nations.
Investment facilitation council
The premier also spoke about the Special Investment Facilitation Council — a body announced by the government last month with the aim to provide a single-window interface to potential investors.
He said such an initiative had been taken for the first time in the country, under which stakeholders would collaborate and facilitate the execution of development projects.
Shehbaz stressed the need to learn from the “bitter experiences” of the past 75 years and move ahead with strenuous efforts, collaboration and dedication by exploring untapped resources, including the vast natural minerals and reserves, and developing agriculture, information technology and industrial sectors.
He regretted that during the past 75 years, Pakistan could not fully exploit its natural deposits worth around $6 trillion.
He recalled that with Russian support, the Pakistan Steel Mills was established during the 70s while in Reko Diq, a hefty penalty of $10 billion was imposed on Pakistan. Had the penalty been enforced, the entire country’s foreign reserves would have been depleted, he said.
Due to certain cartels, natural resources were not explored in the past, he said, adding that financial and political reasons were also a cause of delay in this exploration. This required “deep introspection”, he added.
Similarly, he continued, Chinot iron ores fields were another “worst example of corruption”.
He said without any bidding, the project was “handed over to an overseas Pakistani who had no business history. But when the matter was taken up by the subsequent government and landed in a court of law, the entire matter was declared a manifestation of loot and plunder”.
But the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) could not arrest those who had been accused of plunder, he deplored, adding that it was a “heart-wrenching story”.
The prime minister said NAB “unfortunately created fear and harassed the business community and bureaucrats in the past as it was used as a tool for political witch-hunting of political opponents. “
During his address, he also appreciated the leadership of Saudi Arabia for their financial support worth $2bn, which he said also helped Pakistan in reaching an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
He said Pakistan and Saudi Arabia “always stood together through thick and thin and supported each other at every forum.”
Army chief invites investors to explore ‘hidden reserves’
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Asim Munir also spoke on the occasion, inviting foreign investors to explore the “hidden reserves” of Pakistan and utilise the country’s potential, state broadcaster Radio Pakistan reported.
The army chief said there were vast mining opportunities in Pakistan, which could be realised through joint efforts.
He vowed to instate an investor-friendly system in the country to ensure easy terms and avoid unnecessary delay.
With regards to the minerals summit, he said it had laid down “new rules for ease of doing business for domestic and foreign investors” in the country as mineral projects were the key to success.
He concluded his speech by saying that “it is our social responsibility to play our role in unison for the country’s economy”.