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Pakistani PM to Asharq Al-Awsat: New Cooperation Opportunities with Saudi Arabia

Pakistani PM to Asharq Al-Awsat: New Cooperation Opportunities with Saudi Arabia

Monday, 15 August, 2022 - 07:00
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif places economic reform at the top of his country's priorities, 75 years after Pakistan's independence.


Sharif believes a serious dialogue concerning Jammu and Kashmir is contingent on India stopping the "illegal acts" and "brutal treatment of innocent Kashmiris."


In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Sharif said defeating terrorism led to the death of 83,000 Pakistanis and has cost his country $150 billion.


Pakistan is the seventh nuclear state in the world. Still, the PM admitted that his country faces local and foreign challenges, noting that economic advancement is the biggest challenge.


Sharif spoke of his concern over the "alarming" effect of the rise in food and fuel prices due to the war in Ukraine, noting that the repercussions were more apparent in developing countries, namely Pakistan.


On Saudi-Pakistani relations, he stressed that the renewed economic prospects in Pakistan and Saudi Vision 2030 created new opportunities for economic, political, and cultural cooperation, including information technology, agriculture, food security, environment, renewable energy, defense, and tourism, recruitment, and training of workers.


Asked about his vision of Pakistan after 75 years of independence, Sharif replied that, like any other country, it has faced highs and lows since its establishment.


"Since our formation in 1947, we have faced and overcome the toughest difficulties, along with some missed opportunities that have marked our journey."


Pakistan is the seventh nuclear power in the world and the first and only Islamic country to develop nuclear weapons, said the PM, adding that it defeated terrorism and contributed significantly to making the world a safer place.


Moreover, Pakistan is home to the youngest population in the world.


"Our natural and human resources make our country uniquely positioned to accelerate the journey of progress and prosperity," he remarked.


Economic challenges

He acknowledged that his country is facing economic challenges, noting that the government prioritized financial stability and is implementing reforms to achieve self-sufficiency.


Asked about the Kashmir issue and dialogue with India, Sharif said the Jammu and Kashmir area is the main dispute between Islamabad and New Delhi.


Pakistan maintains its principled position on the dispute, which will remain at the top of its foreign policy priorities until its final resolution under the relevant Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people.


Pakistan is ready to engage with India in a meaningful and result-oriented dialogue on all issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, provided India has stopped its illegal actions, continued Sharif.


Sharif added, however, that it is up to India to create a favorable environment.


On the political and economic reform approach that the government is currently adopting, he explained that the current cabinet is a national government that includes all the major political parties in the country, except Imran Khan's Tehreek-e-Insaf Movement.


Different political parties with separate electoral agendas have come together to address Pakistan's issues, he went on to say.


"We have a clear agenda, and the decision is made through a consultative process," he told Asharq Al-Awsat.


The International Monetary Fund (IMF) program returned to Pakistan after negotiations, and Islamabad is in touch with friendly countries for cash flows. However, the premier understands that these are short-term measures.


Fight against terror

Asked about Pakistan's most complex local and foreign challenges, Sharif said the past decade had seen exponential growth in polarization and populism worldwide, affecting society's social fabric.


"We, in Pakistan, are victims of divisive policies that have taken a heavy toll on society," he acknowledged.


Economy presents another daunting challenge to Pakistan, said Sharif, stressing that no country can take decisions if it is weak and dependent on others.


Furthermore, he noted that Pakistan's foreign policy interests have suffered in the past four years.


The PM reiterated that Pakistan played a crucial role in fighting terrorism in the region.


Islamabad has been targeted by terrorists supported and sponsored by foreign entities, said Sharif, warning that these activities aim to destabilize Pakistan and impede its development and economic growth.


Terrorism sponsors and facilitators do not realize there is a complete national consensus on combating terrorism and extremism in Pakistan, said the premier.


"We owe our success in combating terrorism to the concerted efforts and sacrifices of our security agencies and the innocent Pakistani people."


Ties with Saudi Arabia

Asked about the most prominent areas of cooperation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Sharif lauded the brotherly relationship between the countries, which allowed them to develop their multidimensional collaboration.


In the past few years, Pakistan emerged as an important destination for investment and business, thanks to its reforms and the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).


Sharif stressed that the revitalized economic landscape in Pakistan and Vision 2030 created new opportunities for economic, political, and cultural cooperation.


Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong cooperation in multilateral organizations, especially in the UN and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).


Pakistan has always supported and welcomed political dialogue and negotiations to resolve issues, said the PM in response to a question about his vision on the dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran and Tehran's need to commit to regional security.


"We hope all these diplomatic efforts will contribute to a regional agreement and sustainable peace," stated Sharif.


Asked about his assessment of the repercussions of the crisis between Ukraine and Russia, Sharif admitted that the increasing prices of food and fuel resonated worldwide, including in developed countries.


As for developing countries, such as Pakistan, the surge in prices had a higher impact, especially in light of the economic challenges, said the PM.


Sharif welcomed the recent agreements between Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the UN to allow the transport of Ukrainian grain and the deal between Russia and the UN to boost Russian food and fertilizer exports.


Afghanistan

In response to a question about a Pakistani plan for peace in Afghanistan, the prime minister asserted that Islamabad strives to see its neighbor as a stable, prosperous, peaceful, and interdependent country.


He indicated that Pakistan seeks to discuss matters at the bilateral level with Afghanistan through well-established institutional mechanisms.


"Pakistan has developed a trade facilitation and visa system that has contributed to increasing Afghan exports to Pakistan, which remains an important source of revenue for Afghans," he revealed.


He recalled the humanitarian aid Pakistan provided to Afghanistan, including medicines, relief aid, and food, in the wake of the devastating earthquake and floods in the country.


Pakistan remains engaged with the international community to ensure that the world focuses on Afghanistan, stressed Sharif, adding that Islamabad has been part of all international mechanisms to help Kabul.


"We hope to continue our efforts to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan," he remarked.


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