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Aziz links free trade to Kashmir

Daily Times (Pakistan) | Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Aziz links free trade to Kashmir

 PM says non-tariff barriers also impediment to trade
 Urges greater energy cooperation among SAARC states

Staff Report

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said on Monday that free trade with India was not possible without resolving political disputes.

“Our trade relations with India are restricted due to the overall paradigm of our relations,” the prime minister said to a South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) delegation. He said non-tariff barriers were also a big impediment to trade between the two countries. “We cannot move towards free trade with India without resolving political issues”.

Aziz said that the Islamabad SAARC summit was a turning point in “our relations (with India) and we are moving forward to further improve these relations”. He said a dialogue process with India was underway, but it was currently too slow and needed to be speeded up.

He said both countries should now also move towards dispute resolution rather than dispute management. He said Kashmir was a core issue which should be resolved according to the aspirations of the Kashmiri people and with the acceptance of both India and Pakistan. The prime minister said Pakistan wanted a Kashmir resolution and that is why it had proposed demilitarisation and self-rule in Kashmir.

Energy cooperation between South Asian countries is of vital importance and could be a key driver of development, he said. Pakistan invited India to join the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project, which “we call a peace pipeline and we unbundled it from all other issues”. He said Pakistan was also exploring a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan and had invited India to join it. “We are also working with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to build an energy grid for Pakistan,” he said. To a question, he said there was also a need to settle the water issue with India and stressed the need to abide by the Indus Waters Treaty. He said that anybody was free to invest in Pakistan.

He said a trust deficit and conflicts had prevented South Asia from exploiting its human capital. SAARC had the potential to resolve these issues but it was not working very well, he said.

Aziz said SAARC needed to be energised and its secretariat strengthened. SAARC could be an excellent platform to meet the challenges of globalisation, he added. The prime minister said Pakistan enjoyed close relations with Iran, Afghanistan, the Gulf states, Bangladesh and other SAARC member countries. “Our relations with China are multi-faceted and are expanding in all fields including economy, diplomacy, civil, political, defence and security. We are proud of our seamless relations with China.”

He said Pakistan had a vibrant economy that was growing fast. Due to “our reforms agenda a middle class is emerging and we are on our way to improving living standards by ensuring macro and micro economic stability”.

To a question, Aziz said Pakistan was not interested in an arms race but “we have a strategy to ensure minimum nuclear deterrence to deter any aggression”. He said sanctions after Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998 had helped it become self-reliant in defence.

He said Pakistan was gradually decreasing its defence expenditure and enhancing allocations for social sector improvement and poverty reduction. He said Pakistan was committed to fighting terror and had done more than any country to curb terror. To a question, he said Islam was a religion of peace, harmony and tolerance. He said Islam abhorred terrorism and “we are proud of our faith”. He said there was a need to promote inter-faith harmony.

To another question, he said Pakistan had made successful efforts to improve its image by reforming its economy, transparent leadership and promoting the true image of Islam and still “we are making our best efforts to build inter-faith harmony”.He said the insurgency in Sri Lanka was an internal issue, “but if the Sri Lankan government seeks our assistance, we will think about it”. However, he said, Pakistan hoped that the issue would be resolved through dialogue.”

 source: Daily Times