Pakistan's Sharif seeks to end India tensions

Monday 13 May 2013 17.08
Nawaz Sharif has said the mistrust that has long dogged relations with India must be tackled.
Nawaz Sharif has said the mistrust that has long dogged relations with India must be tackled.

Nawaz Sharif, poised to become prime minister for a third time after a decisive victory in Pakistan's election, has said the mistrust that has long dogged relations with India must be tackled.

Mr Sharif said he had a "long chat" with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the two exchanged invitations to visit - a diplomatic nicety in some parts of the world but a heavily symbolic step for South Asia's arch-rivals.

Asked by an Indian journalist if he would invite Singh for his swearing-in as prime minister, Sharif said: "I will be very happy to extend that invitation."

"There are fears on your side, there are fears on our side," Mr Sharif added during a news conference at his home on the outskirts of Lahore. "We have to seriously address this."

Mr Sharif's power base is Pakistan's most prosperous province, Punjab, which sits across the border from an Indian state with the same name.

A free marketeer, he wants to see trade between the two countries unshackled, and he has a history of making conciliatory gestures towards New Delhi.

In 1999, when he was last prime minister, Sharif stood at the frontier post waiting to welcome his counterpart - Atal Behari Vajpayee - to arrive on the inaugural run of a bus service between New Delhi and Lahore.

It was a moment of high hope for two countries that were divided amid bloodshed at birth in 1947 and went on to wage war three times in the decades that followed.

But by May of 1999, the two sides were sucked into a new conflict as the then-army chief of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, sent forces across the line dividing the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

And by October, Mr Sharif had been ousted by Mr Musharraf in a bloodless coup.

Mr Sharif's return to power 14 years later has raised concern that he will again cross swords with the military, which has long controlled Pakistan's foreign and security policies.

But Sharif said he "never had any trouble with the army", just Musharraf, and as prime minister he would ensure that the military and the civilian government work together on the myriad security and economic problems confronting Pakistan.

Mr Musharraf resigned as president in 2008 and went into self-imposed exile abroad. He returned in March to run in last Saturday's elections. Instead, he was arrested for his crackdown on the judiciary during his rule and put under house arrest.