Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Monday he could easily work with India’s new government led by Narendra Modi, hoping that their personal focus on boosting business could help “turn a new page” in bilateral ties.
In an exclusive interview with HT hours before participating in Modi’s inauguration, Sharif said he was carrying a message of goodwill, love and friendship for the Indian people.
“I am here to turn a new page in India-Pakistan relations,” said the Pakistan prime minister who had fought off stiff opposition from hardliners in his country to make the trip to India. He will hold a bilateral meeting with Modi on Tuesday.
“We (India and Pakistan) have a historic moment to open a new chapter. The new government under Mr Modi has a strong mandate and I look forward to picking up the relationship from where I and (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee left it in 1999.”
In February 1999, then Prime Minister Vajpayee crossed the border at Wagah for summit-level talks with Sharif, raising hopes of lasting peace between the two countries, but relations nosedived soon after with the two sides fighting a short but brutal war on the heights of Kargil.
On his first official trip to India as prime minster (he last came for Rajiv Gandhi’s funeral), Sharif looked set to drive an agenda of “trade and economics” at his bilateral meeting with Modi on Tuesday.
“I am regarded as a friend of businessmen and we are regarded as a business-friendly government. Modi too is perceived as a business-friendly person. He has a model of development,” Sharif said.
“We can easily work with each other.”
From time to time, leaders from both sides have identified boosting business and trade as a way to reduce hostility. In particular, Pakistan’s crippling energy deficit has been viewed as a lucrative opportunity for Indian businesses.
Indeed, Indian companies such as the Adani Group have proposed producing electricity to be sold to Pakistan. But such proposals have not taken off. On Monday, Sharif once again reminded Indian businesses of such opportunities.
“I will be happy to have Indians invest in Pakistan. We have an acute shortage of energy. If Indians come, they will find Pakistani markets very attractive, with returns as high as 30 percent.” Sharif said.
Asked if he was willing to give an assurance that terrorism would no longer be sponsored from Pakistani soil, a point likely to be taken up at the bilateral meeting between him and Modi, the Pakistani premier struck a positive note.
“We have lost thousands of lives. Our economy has suffered at the hands of terrorists. Who can be more serious than us regarding eliminating terror from the region,” Sharif said, seated in the VIP suite at Delhi’s Taj Mansingh hotel.
Sharif took care to avoid answering any questions relating to his relationship with his army chief or statements issued by jihadi hardliners such as Hafiz Saeed, who had warned the Pakistani premier against coming to India.
“Let us focus on opening a new chapter and remove fears and misgivings about each other,” he said.
“We have strong mandates on both sides and need to look forward.”