High hopes and expectations



Dec 06 - 12, 2004





After becoming Prime Minister, Mr. Shaukat Aziz undertook, his second visit of foreign countries last week. His first visit was to three SAARC countries of Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh early this month. Now he has visited the other three countries of the regional organization, which included Sri Lanka, Maldives and India. He returned after his visit to these countries with encouraging results, high hopes and expectations.

During these tour, the Prime Minister discussed with the leadership of these countries the progress of implementation of the important decisions taken at the SAARC summit in January this year at Islamabad, and held important negotiations on cooperation at social and political levels for increasing economic relations. Some important agreements based on mutual interest were signed, agreements for a free trade area for mutual trade were reviewed, and proposals for the 13th summit conference in Dhaka from Jan 9 to 11, 2005 were discussed.

On November 23 and 24 meetings were held in New Delhi with the Indian President Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Dr. Manmonhan Singh, Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, leaders of the ruling Congress and coalition parties, former prime minister Atal Bihjari Vajpayee, leaders of the opposition as also leaders from both the factions of the APHC. An important aspect of the visit is that it comes after 19 years of the later Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo's visit to India for a SAARC conference. It comes exactly after a year of Pakistan's announcement of a unilateral ceasefire on the LoC last year.

Talks have been held in New Delhi in detail with the Indian leadership on Pak-India problems in addition to matters concerning SAARC. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has called them useful and successful. This direct contact of the Prime Minister with the Indian leaders would have resulted in knowing the minds of the leadership of each other's countries. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is not only an outstanding banker, but as a finance minister of Pakistan he has demonstrated his abilities in discussions with the World Bank and other important financial institutions, and signed highly important agreements for the country. This is amply reflected in the advantages that have accrued to the country's economy during the past five years. In Delhi also, his meetings with Indian leadership and Kashmiri leaders have created a good impression and leaders have found him to be a person with an open mind.



An important and prominent point in this regard is his detailed meeting with the Kashmiri leaders. He first met both the factions separately and then jointly; and took them into confidence about various stages of Pak-India meetings and heard their opinion on various aspects of the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. This meeting was in keeping with Pakistan's stand that the Kashmir dispute should be solved in a way that is in keeping with the aspirations of the people of Kahhmir. Both the factions of the Hurriyat expressed their satisfaction on these meetings. The Prime Minister made it clear to the Kashmiri leaders, and later to the Indian leaders, that the core issue between the two countries in South Asia is the issue of Kashmir that requires resolution. Progress on other issues is linked and conditional to advance on this core problem. At a press conference at the end of his visit, the Prime Minister also pointed out that during his meetings with the Indian leadership he has stressed upon resolving the Kashmir problem in accordance with the aspirations and wishes of the Kashmiri people. He said he had explicity told the Indian prime minister that converting the line of control into an international border was no solution to the problem. The Prime Minister made it clear that while Pakistan favoured the proposed Srinagar Muzafarabad bus service, it would not accept a mechanism that would change the status of the line of control into a permanent border.

In the the 90-minute substantive talks that the Prime Minister had with his Indian counterpart, it was agreed to continue the composite dialogue process. According to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Prime Minister Manmonhan Singh wants to solve all problems with Pakistan. Welcoming Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, the Indian prime minister said, "A strong and stable Pakistan is in our interest and in the interest of the region." Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz made it clear in the press conference that although Pakistan wants to increase trade with India, it will not be given a MFN status. He told the Indian prime minister that he would go ahead with the pipeline project even if India did not agree it. He pointed out that the project was in India's interest also, and that Pakistan was discussing it with Qatar and Iran. If India wants to join this project, it immediately give a clear answer. It seems that because this gas pipeline plan is expected to benefit Pakistan by 700 to 800 million dollars, India is using unnecessary delaying tactics to pressurize Pakistan to extract more concessions. New Delhi probably thinks that after the discovery of oil and gas resources in Rajisthan near the Pakistani border the pressure for oil and gas will be considerably lessened and it can keep the pipeline plan in abeyance for some more time. However, India, increasing population of over a billion should soon compel it to join the pipeline project. Prime Minister's bold policy in this connection is to be lauded.

The visit to Sri Lanka and Maldives proved highly successful in achieving its basic objectives of enhancing cooperation, improving trade and strengthening economic ties. In the talks that Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz held with the president and the prime minister of Sri Lanka it was agreed to promote peace and security in South Asia, to activate potential of SAARC and increase cooperation in education, trade and industry, defence and other fields, between the two countries. Sri Lanka has accepted the generous Pakistani offer of a $10 million credit to buy Pakistani products. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz also gave his vision of SAARC so that it can play greater role in ameliorating the lot of the poor people, ending unemployment, and removing problems among SAARC countries. Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga will visit Pakistan in January next year.