Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has hailed “exemplary” relations between Pakistan and Turkey, saying the countries support each other on all issues of core interest including the disputes related to occupied Kashmir and Northern Cyprus.
He made the remarks in an interview with Turkish media outlet Anadolu Agency ahead of his three-day visit to the country.
The prime minister left for Turkey today. During his trip, he will meet Turkish businessmen and traders, visit the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, and issue a commemorative plaque alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to mark 75 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari reached Ankara yesterday, and was received by Ankara Governor Vasip Sahin.
In the interview, PM Shehbaz said Pakistan and Turkey had always stood by each other for the last 75 years. “These historical relations are grounded firmly in common religious, cultural and linguistic links and transcend political changes on either side.”
Both countries had similar views on regional and international issues and collaborated closely on bilateral, regional and multilateral forums, he said.
He also thanked Turkey’s leadership for its principled support on the Kashmir issue.
The prime minister said that while cultural and people-to-people relations between the two countries were on an upward trajectory, Pakistan was now focusing on increasing economic cooperation.
“The current level of bilateral trade is still not a true reflection of the excellent state of our relationship. This is also an area where immense opportunities exist for both countries. During my visit here, I am meeting leading Turkish business companies to encourage them to utilise the immense opportunities existing in Pakistan in various fields, including energy, infrastructure, e-commerce, municipal agro-based industry and IT sectors, etc.”
Trade with India
In response to a question about trade with India, Prime Minister Shehbaz said Pakistan and India had a “lot to gain from mutually beneficial trade”.
However, Pakistan had taken the decision to downgrade relations with India after Aug 5, 2019, when it revoked occupied Kashmir’s special autonomy, he recalled.
“We are cognisant of the economic dividends that can be accrued from a healthy trade activity with India. However, in the wake of continued brutalisation of the Kashmiri people, attempts to change the demographic structure of the occupied territory, and continued denial by India of the Kashmiris’ rights, it is hard to imagine that progress can be made on the trade front.”
He further said that India would have to take the onus for normalisation of relations by revisiting its decision of Aug 2019 and creating a conducive environment for dialogue.
When the premier was questioned about Pakistan’s place in the United States’ policy on the Asia-Pacific region, he said the two countries had a “longstanding and broad-based relationship”.
Pakistan wanted to deepen and widen its engagement with the US, he said, pointing out that the country was the biggest export market and a major source of investment and revenue.
There is a lot of potential to expand the trade, commercial and investment aspects of this relationship even further, he added.
The prime minister also urged US companies to invest in Pakistan, especially in the information technology sector.
PTI invited to discuss charter of economy
Prime Minister Shehbaz stressed that the PML-N-led coalition government did not believe in “any kind of polarisation”. The incumbent government was formed of “almost all” political forces from the provinces, except the PTI, he added.
“I believe in political accommodation and dialogue. For this reason, I have invited all political forces, including the PTI, to sit together and agree on the charter of the economy. For Pakistan to break the boom and bust cycle and gain economic stability, it is important that all political forces work out the minimum rules of the game that ensure continuity of economic policies and provide enabling environment for this purpose.
“While we are aware of the menace of political polarisation, we are working to promote political dialogue and engagement.”
The PML-N government’s priority since coming into power in April has been to stabilise the economy, he said and noted that Pakistan was facing several challenges, including external fiscal pressures, inflation and rising food prices.
“We are paying the price for the indecisiveness of the previous government, for example, the failure to purchase fuel in a timely manner and the absence of strategic reserves of essential commodities, which was subsequently followed by purchases at a higher price. This impacted the poor people.”
However, the incumbent government was focused on improving socioeconomic indicators, particularly for the vulnerable segment of society, he added. He further said the government was working on a tight monetary policy, reduction of fiscal deficit, relief package for the poor, and building strategic reserves of essential commodities.
“We are hopeful that the IMF (International Monetary Fund) will release the next tranche, which will build the confidence of the international market for investment in Pakistan, thereby alleviating the pressure on foreign exchange reserves.”
Prime Minister Shehbaz said Pakistan fully supported the five-pronged approach of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with the emphasis on physical connectivity, financial cooperation, trade facilitation, policy consultation, and people-to-people linkages.
“With the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor), we have successfully realised our countries’ shared vision and the BRI’s ideals. With CPEC entering a new phase of high-quality development, our Belt and Road cooperation will accelerate Pakistan’s industrial and economic modernisation.
“Pakistan is committed to the high-quality development of CPEC, including improvements in Pakistan’s railways’ infrastructure and full realisation of Gwadar Port’s potential,” he added.
‘Necessary to engage with Afghan govt’
The premier also said that it was a necessity and not a matter of choice to engage with the interim government in Afghanistan.
“The world cannot abandon the Afghan people. It must shoulder the responsibility to immediately address the country’s humanitarian crisis and fragile economy,” he said and warned that a “total collapse” of its economy would be disastrous for Afghans, Pakistanis and the international community.
“The outflow of refugees and transnational terrorism from a destabilised Afghanistan does not serve the interests of anyone,” he cautioned.
“Pakistan is also emphasising to the interim government to live up to their international commitments that the country will not be used for terrorism, that girls and women be able to pursue education, and that they form an inclusive government. The international community should continue to engage with them on these commitments.”
When questioned whether the Afghan government had given assurances that its land would not be used against Pakistan, PM Shehbaz responded, “The current authorities in Kabul have repeatedly given assurances to us as well as to the wider international community that they would not allow their soil to be used against any country.
“They have also committed to take stern actions against all terrorist outfits and remove all safe havens from their territory.”
The premier said he expected the Afghan government to stand by the commitments it made.