Sharif Says He Wants Serious Peace Talks with India and to End Arms Race

Rachel Oswald, Global Security Newswire
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Rachel Oswald, Global Security Newswire
Oct. 22, 2013, 11:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — Pakistan’s lead­er on Tues­day said he is ready to hold sub­stant­ive peace talks with In­dia aimed at resolv­ing the two na­tions’ arms race and oth­er long­stand­ing areas of dis­pute.

Pakistani Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif in a speech at the United States In­sti­tute of Peace said im­prov­ing re­la­tions with In­dia “is one of my fa­vor­ite sub­jects.”

“We would like to pick up the threads from where we left off in 1999 and then move for­ward,” Sharif said at the non­par­tis­an fed­er­al in­sti­tu­tion in Wash­ing­ton.

As Pakistani prime min­is­ter in Feb­ru­ary 1999, Sharif joined with then-In­di­an Prime Min­is­ter A. B. Va­jpay­ee in sign­ing the Lahore De­clar­a­tion, which com­mit­ted In­dia and Pakistan to giv­ing each oth­er pri­or no­tice of bal­list­ic-mis­sile tests. It also called for them to hold two-way talks about im­prov­ing mu­tu­al trust on nuc­le­ar-weapon and con­ven­tion­al-mil­it­ary is­sues.

The sign­ing of the Lahore De­clar­a­tion is seen by in­ter­na­tion­al ob­serv­ers as the apex in Pakistan-In­dia nuc­le­ar con­fid­ence-build­ing ef­forts. Three months later Pakistani troops crossed in­to the In­di­an-con­trolled sec­tion of the dis­puted re­gion of Kash­mir. The en­su­ing brief war led to a break­down in bi­lat­er­al re­la­tions and the re­in­vig­or­a­tion of weapons de­vel­op­ment by both coun­tries. Sharif then was toppled in an Oc­to­ber 1999 mil­it­ary coup led by Gen. Per­vez Mush­ar­raf, who did little in his nearly dec­ade in power to re­solve out­stand­ing is­sues with In­dia.

Sharif was sworn in as prime min­is­ter for the third time this past June after his party won the gen­er­al elec­tion in May.

“We’ve … been in a very un­for­tu­nate arms race” for about “66 years,” said Sharif. He has played a sig­ni­fic­ant role in South Asia’s nuc­le­ar-weapons buildup, as he au­thor­ized Pakistan’s first nuc­le­ar ex­plo­sions in 1998. “I be­lieve that we need to get out of this situ­ation.”

For­eign ana­lysts be­lieve In­dia and Pakistan are gradu­ally grow­ing their re­spect­ive nuc­le­ar ar­sen­als, seek­ing to en­hance both their quant­it­ies and cap­ab­il­it­ies. New Del­hi is es­tim­ated to pos­sess between 90 and 110 nuc­le­ar war­heads, while Is­lamabad likely has between 100 and 120, ac­cord­ing to the Stock­holm In­ter­na­tion­al Peace Re­search In­sti­tute’s as­sess­ment. Ob­serv­ers also be­lieve the long­time rivals are boost­ing their fis­sile-ma­ter­i­al pro­duc­tion cap­ab­il­it­ies.

Sharif said if Pakistan and In­dia had “not wasted our re­sources in a nev­er-end­ing arms race,” both na­tions would be pros­per­ous coun­tries by now.

Nuc­le­ar-weapons pro­grams are sig­ni­fic­ant in­vest­ments for coun­tries. Pakistan is es­tim­ated by vari­ous or­gan­iz­a­tions to spend over $2 bil­lion an­nu­ally on its atom­ic-weapons ef­forts.

Sharif main­tained there is do­mest­ic sup­port in­side Pakistan for resolv­ing all out­stand­ing is­sues with In­dia through dia­logue.

“I be­lieve very strongly that both coun­tries of course will have to sit down to­geth­er,” Sharif said, adding that all out­stand­ing is­sues, in­clud­ing the dis­pute over Kash­mir, could be re­solved if they are “ser­i­ously ad­dressed.”

A fi­nal res­ol­u­tion to the ter­rit­ori­al dis­pute over con­trol of Kash­mir will have to be en­dorsed by “the people of all three sides,” said Sharif, re­fer­ring to Pakistan, In­dia and in­sur­gents in Kash­mir.

“Kash­mir of course is a very dif­fi­cult is­sue … but I think by sit­ting and talk­ing we will find some way to re­solve” it, he said.

Sharif met briefly with his In­di­an coun­ter­part, Man­mo­han Singh, in New York City in late Septem­ber, when they agreed to co­oper­ate on lower­ing bi­lat­er­al ten­sions that had sprouted up again this year over sev­er­al leth­al cross-bor­der killings.

“Our mes­sage is simple,” Sharif said on Tues­day in Wash­ing­ton. “Fu­ture prosper­ity and eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment in South Asia de­pends on peace and se­cur­ity in the re­gion, there­fore all of us have a stake in work­ing for these noble ob­ject­ives.”

Sharif is sched­uled to meet on Wed­nes­day with Pres­id­ent Obama at the White House. Earli­er this week, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­know­ledged it had re­stored some mil­it­ary as­sist­ance to Is­lamabad that was frozen in 2011 fol­low­ing dis­agree­ments over how to handle ex­trem­ist groups op­er­at­ing in Pakistan.

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