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Aziz speaks out on South Asia, Pakistan, India

Written by: Staff

Islamabad, May 1: Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz today called for a sense of openness among the South Asian countries for sustainable peace and to swap the trust deficit with a sense of co-operation leading to the socio-economic development of the region.

Addressing delegates from SAARC member states, attending the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) conference, at a breakfast meeting at the Prime Minister House, he urged the leadership of the region to resolve disputes and work together for building a better future for the one-fifth of world's population.

''Sustainable peace in South Asia can only be achieved if the voice of the people is given due respect, there is no interference in the internal affairs of others and a sense of mutual respect prevailed,'' he said.

Mr Aziz said Pakistan believes in having good ties with all its neighbours. He also added unlike the issue of trade with India, it ''unbundled'' the issue of sharing of gas, and offered an energy corridor for natural gas from Iran and Turkmenistan.

Pakistan has linked progress on trade with India to the promote resolution of the Kashmir issue which was vital for lasting peace in the region, he added.

''We believe it can build linkages and dependencies and build relations,'' he said, adding ''Pakistan believes in energy co-operation and the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline will be an acid test, leading to broader cooperation.'' Referring to the Baglihar and Krishanganga issues with India over water distribution rights, the Prime Minister said Pakistan had to seek legal remedy, as it felt these projects violated the Indus Water Basin Treaty of 1960.

''As lower riparian, we have to protect our rights,'' he said and expressed the hope that the resolution of the water security aspect will help reduce the trust deficit with India.

Mr Aziz recalled the amassing of around one million troops along the Pakistan border in 2001-02 and said the two countries almost reached the flash point, but the issue was resolved by their leadership and 'friends'.

He stressed without the involvement of three stakeholders, governments of Pakistan, India and the people of Kashmir, the Kashmir issue cannot be resolved. Pointing at the human rights violations in the Indian occupied Kashmir, he said it was important that there was an end to such practices so as to take forward the peace process.

He also referred to the several proposals floated by Pakistan, seeking an end to the lingering issue, but stressed that ''the wishes of the people of Kashmir must be taken into account for lasting peace.'' '' Five points along the Line of Control have opened and I hope that trade through these openings will contribute to the overall improvement of the situation between the two countries,'' Mr Aziz noted.

The Prime Minister said Pakistan believed in open and free trade, however, with India it was restricted because of the overall issues, on which progress has to be made.

He acknowledged that the private sectors of the two countries felt that the non-tariff barriers were a cause of concern, but said ''lack of progress on the Kashmir dispute has kept this issue alive.'' Mr Aziz termed the 12th SAARC summit at Islamabad a turning point in the relations between the two countries and for the overall benefit of the entire region.

''Through a very interesting back channel diplomacy both the countries expressed the desire to carry forward the peace process.'' he said.

He said both President Pervez Musharraf and the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee shared their passion to move forward the process. He pointed at the several confidence-building measures that have so far been agreed upon.

''But we need to think about issue resolution, instead of dispute management,'' he said.

The Prime Minister noted Pakistan also supports a stronger and more effective SAARC as the region had tremendous potential.

About Pakistan's defence, he said the country's defence budget had decreased in terms of the GDP, as it did not believe in an arms race, had no aggressive designs and was strictly adhering to the policy of minimum credible deterrence.

''We have conventional and strategic capabilities, but these are only for our defence as we wish to live in peace with all our neighbours,'' he added.


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