Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. (Twitter)
Abu Dhabi: In an interview with an Arabic news channel, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said that Pakistan "learnt its lessons" from the wars it fought with India. Admitting the difficult financial and security position that Pakistan finds itself in, Mr Sharif said the wars caused "distress, poverty and unemployment" to its population. During the conversation, the Pakistani PM also batted for "honest" talks with India. Later, in an apparent attempt at damage control, Islamabad said that talks with India can take place only after New Delhi reverses the scrapping of Article 370.
The Pakistan Prime Minister was quoted by media reports as telling the Al Arabiya channel, "My message to the Indian leadership and PM (Narendra) Modi is that allow us to sit down at the desk and have critical and honest talks to resolve our burning points like Kashmir. It’s as much up to us to stay peacefully and make progress as it is to quarrel with one another and waste time and assets."
But as soon as its Prime Minister stirred the hornet’s nest, Islamabad appeared to swing into damage-control mode by claiming that Mr Sharif had made it clear that talks with India can take place only after New Delhi reversed the scrapping of Article 370 and that the Kashmir issue should be solved as per the UN resolutions that go back by more than seven decades. There was no immediate official reaction from New Delhi, which is watching closely.
He was further quoted as saying, "We now have (fought) three wars with India and they have solely introduced extra distress, poverty and unemployment to the individuals. We now have learnt our lesson and we wish to stay in peace, but for that, we should be capable of resolving our real issues."
Pointing out that both nations are nuclear powers, he said, "God forbid, if warfare breaks out, who will stay to tell what had happened." He also claimed that human rights violations were taking place in Kashmir.)
Mr Sharif had also recently commented that he feels "embarrassed" since other nations feel that financial aid is what Pakistan will constantly ask for. The statement comes at a time when Pakistan finds itself in a major financial crisis and is depending heavily on China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, apart from global financial institutions like the IMF, to bail it out.
To make matters worse, its relations with the once-friendly ruling Taliban regime in Afghanistan have soured considerably leading to border skirmishes. Also, the terror group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistan-based Taliban, has mounted fresh attacks on Pakistani security forces.
Baloch militant groups are also attacking Chinese nationals in Pakistan, which has angered Beijing over Islamabad’s inability to protect them. Interestingly, till 1964, Pakistan was seen as an economic success and an "Asian tiger," but the 1965 and 1971 wars spelt economic and military doom for it. Islamabad has never been able to fully recover from those two twin blows.
Relations between India and Pakistan had soured over the past few years due to the Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks, leading to cross-border surgical ground strikes and later an air strike by India in February 2019.
Later, in August 2019, India scrapped Article 370, which conferred a special status on Jammu and Kashmir and split the Indian state into two Union territories -- J&K and Ladakh. A furious Pakistan downgraded diplomatic ties with India and snapped trade ties as well. However, matters began looking up due to some back-door diplomacy when the armed forces of both nations decided on a ceasefire in 2021. But hopes of improvement in political ties were dashed when the then Imran Khan-led government in Islamabad took a hard line and refused to improve ties with India till Article 370 was restored.
The Shehbaz Sharif government that took office last year in Pakistan is also publicly sticking to the same stand. It is in this context that Mr Sharif’s comments are startling. Mr Sharif’s government is under pressure from a resurgent Mr Khan to announce snap polls.