Pakistan Has Always Sought ‘Connectivity with Central Asia,’ PM Sharif Says

Ahead of his visit to Astana Aug. 25-26, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan shared his views on the potential of bilateral cooperation, issues of regional security and cooperation, the situation in Afghanistan, the fight against the so-called Islamic State, Pakistan’s cultural diplomacy as well as other issues in an interview with The Astana Times.

Беседа Президента Российской Федерации Владимира Путина с Премьер-министром Исламской Республики Пакистан Навазом Шарифом

What is the main purpose of your visit to Kazakhstan?

The purpose of my visit is to further strengthen Pakistan-Kazakhstan ties, expand cooperation in different areas, increase bilateral trade, investment and economic cooperation. We will also exchange views on how to work together for a peaceful and stable region.

Trade turnover between our two countries last year was $33 million. This figure obviously does not correspond to the potential of bilateral cooperation. With the accession of our country to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), what are the prospects for bilateral trade and economic cooperation?

The bilateral trade between Pakistan and Kazakhstan is far below its potential. However, there exists tremendous potential for enhancing trade between the two countries. Both sides need to make efforts to utilise all available options, while simultaneously exploring new areas of cooperation. In this regard, Kazakhstan’s WTO membership will be instrumental in enhancing the country’s trade with Pakistan, a founding member of the Organisation.

Since Kazakhstan’s independence, Pakistan has actively supported Kazakhstan’s foreign policy initiatives. A case in point is the Conference for Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) process focused on interaction on Asian security, where Pakistan takes the most active part. What, in your opinion, are the main components of the Asian security?

Pakistan supports the CICA process and actively participates in its activities. We have recently joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which is also an important organisation for security. Pakistan believes that adherence to the UN Charter is essential for peace, stability and security in Asia. Principles of non-interference in internal affairs, development of friendly relations and settlement of disputes through dialogue should be promoted. There is an intrinsic link between development and security. Therefore, we should focus on regional connectivity and building economic synergies.

Kazakhstan is a candidate for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2017-2018. What is your country’s position in this regard?

Pakistan supports Kazakhstan’s candidature for election to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the term 2017-2018.

What do you think about an opinion of political analysts that Kazakhstan can become one of the new peace-building centres?

Pakistan attaches great importance to the maintenance of international peace and security. We are the largest troop contributor to the UN peacekeeping operations around the world.

Pakistan admires Kazakhstan’s role for the international peace and security and has full confidence in our brotherly country and its visionary leadership. The Kazakh leadership created CICA, which contributes to peace and security. Kazakhstan is also an important member of SCO. We welcome Kazakhstan’s increasing role as a peace building centre.

Afghanistan is one of the key issues not only in the region but also in the world. What is the view of Islamabad on how to achieve the stabilisation of the situation in this country? How it is possible to prevent drug trafficking from Afghanistan?

We fully support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process. Stability and peace in Afghanistan is very important for Pakistan and the region. We have common interest in having a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. I have been in contact with President Ashraf Ghani since he has assumed the office. During my recent visit to Afghanistan on 12 May 2015, I met with Afghan leadership. We discussed all aspects of our bilateral relations, especially reconciliation, peace and security in Afghanistan.

With the establishment of peace and security followed by a favourable environment for economic development, we believe all such evils like narcotic drugs will be eliminated from the country.

What should be done for eradication of so-called “Islamic State”?

Pakistan unequivocally condemns acts of terrorism committed by the so-called ISIS or ISIL. This is against the tenets of Islam.

We are engaged in Operation Zarb-e-Azb to eradicate the menace of extremism and terrorism. This is successfully going on and we will soon get rid of terrorists and extremists.

The international community should fully implement the UN Security Council resolutions 2170 and 2178 against ISIL. Multilateral cooperation under the Security Council resolutions, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, is essential to eradicate the menace of ISIS.

Unfortunately, sometimes Islam is associated with violence and terror. What should be done to change these stereotypes?

It is absolutely wrong to associate Islam with violence and extremism. Islam is a religion of peace and moderation. The actions of small minority unfortunately create an unfounded impression that Islam is associated with violence and terror. The trend, however, is changing. Thanks to international exchange programmes and people-to-people contacts the world is now gaining more awareness and understanding about Islam. Media can be used as a very strong tool to highlight correct and soft image of our religion. Similarly, we need to remind the world of the achievements of the Muslims that have changed the world for the better.

Do representatives of Pakistan’s business community plan to use the potential of cooperation with Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU)?

Pakistan wishes to enter into a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Eurasian Economic Union to deepen commercial relations with the member countries. This will facilitate fruitful cooperation between the EAEU and Pakistan business community. Kazakhstan being a member of the Eurasian Economic Union may be very helpful to support Pakistan’s proposal for the FTA.

Is Islamabad interested in attracting Kazakhstan to participate in the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor mega project?

Pakistan views China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as means to achieve its objective of regional connectivity and growth opportunity for the entire region. We welcome any initiatives that lead to fulfillment of this objective. We have always sought to enhance connectivity with Central Asia, which will provide greater economic opportunities and create win-win situation for all.

Pakistan has a long and rich history, and at the same time it is a relatively young state. What are the basic postulates of the cultural diplomacy of Pakistan?

Pakistan’s cultural diplomacy is manifestation of its strong Islamic identity along with its geographic location in South Asia and historic ties to Central Asia.  Even though Pakistan is a young state, it has rich history embedded in the Indus Valley Civilisation. Hence, Pakistan has culturally benefited enormously through all these factors. Pakistan conducts its cultural diplomacy through its cuisine, dresses, language and art. The Pakistani community and Pakistan’s missions abroad also promote the culture of Pakistan globally.

You have a very rich and long political experience at the highest level. What qualities should a modern politician have? Who is your political ideal?

I think the most important qualities for a modern political leader today are honesty, compassion and integrity. He should be available to the public and work tirelessly for amelioration of all segments of society. Similarly, he should have the vision for creating harmony, unity and prosperity in the nation. Moreover, he should enjoy the trust and popular support of his people.

The founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhamad Ali Jinnah is my ideal who gifted us with our sweet homeland and taught us how to live and grow with dignity and honour.

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