Pakistani premier eyes 'collective research, pooling of resources' with Türkiye

On relations with US, China, Sharif tells Anadolu Agency inter-state relations 'should be based on mutual respect'.

Pakistani premier eyes 'collective research, pooling of resources' with Türkiye

Facing common challenges and emerging threats, Islamabad and Ankara should work together through collective research and pooling of resources, said Pakistan's prime minister.

"We believe that Pakistan and Türkiye should work together and deepen their partnership through collective research and joint development and pooling of resources," Shehbaz Sharif told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.

Calling bilateral relations with Türkiye "exemplary," Sharif said: "These historic relations are grounded firmly in common religious, cultural, and linguistic links and transcend political changes on either side."

This year, the two countries are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Sharif paid a two-day official visit to Türkiye on Friday at the invitation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

On Friday, he and Erdogan jointly inaugurated the third of four MILGEM corvette ships manufactured by Türkiye for the Pakistani navy.

Over the past seven and a half decades, Sharif said, the two sides have always "stood by each other in the face of all changes."

"Pakistan and Türkiye support each other on all issues of core national interests -- whether it is Jammu and Kashmir or Northern Cyprus. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Türkiye, particularly its leadership, for its principled support on Jammu and Kashmir dispute," he said.

He said the two nations also have similar views on regional and international issues, while also enjoying "close collaboration on bilateral, regional, and multilateral forums. People-to-people and cultural contacts are on an upward trajectory."

"Confronted by common challenges and new and emerging threats, Pakistan and Türkiye have deepened their cooperation across various spheres, particularly in defense," Sharif said, lauding the Turkish defense industry which has "achieved spectacular success under the leadership of President Erdogan, defying all odds and challenges in the past two decades."

"Pakistan is Türkiye’s largest defense customer," the prime minister underlined, adding that their collaboration on the construction of the MILGEM-class warships, not only has a "unique value" for the Pakistani Navy's capability enhancements, but also "prominently stands out as a defining moment to further cement the bonds of friendship between our two nations and our two navies."

'Mix of policies to tackle economic downturn'

Sharif, who was elected prime minister in April after his predecessor Imran Khan lost a vote of confidence, said Pakistan's economy "was facing multiple global and domestic challenges" and was "on the verge of financial collapse" when he assumed charge.

"The economic policies of the previous government were not pro-growth and led the economy to multiple challenges,

"Pakistan's economy was facing excessive monetary tightening, supply-side shocks, lingering pandemic effects, waning investors' confidence, high inflation, and the effects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict," he said.

However, Sharif said his administration had adopted a "mix of policies to tackle the economic downturn by accepting the fact that we have a very short time to step back from the edge of bankruptcy and financial collapse."

"No doubt, some of our policy options, like the withdrawal of untargeted subsidies, had added to the cost to the economy in the short term. But, most of our policies are more likely to offer benefits in the longer term," he said.

"This was a matter of policy choices and political will. Although such a tough decision requires huge political capital, we took the risk of taking these decisions by reverting the untargeted subsidies.

"We are also aware of the fact that our current course of action is hurting the most vulnerable and marginalized in society but we are taking care of them by announcing targeted subsidies and other relief measures," the prime minister said.

Sharif said the revival of the IMF program and "active engagement with bilateral and multilateral partners" had eased the pressure.

To tackle the economy, he noted that his government took measures to reduce the import bill, current account deficit, and pressure on the Pakistani rupee.

The "continuous decline in imports" helped improve the current account deficit during the first four months of the 2023 financial year, he added.

Sharif, however, said the massive floods that hit Pakistan early this year "caused a great deal of suffering."

But, he said, "recently announced packages of our government for farmers and businessmen will help stimulate economic activities."

Calls on industrialized countries to meet climate finance commitments

Sharif said that while Pakistan contributes less than 1% of the global carbon footprint, it "is facing the brunt of natural calamities in the form of heat waves, glacial outbursts, droughts, torrential rains, and unprecedented monsoons."

"There is an urgent need for the industrialized countries to meet their climate finance commitments, with a balanced focus on adaptation and mitigation," he said, welcoming a deal to establish a "loss and damage fund" to compensate developing countries most severely impacted by climate change.

He also suggested that the international community explore the possibilities of "debt swaps for climate action, particularly adaptation."

On how his government was responding to the situation created by massive floods that inundated vast swathes of Pakistan earlier this year, Sharif said the country "mounted coordinated rescue and relief operations mobilizing all possible resources and capacities."

A dedicated National Flood Response and Coordination Centre (NFRCC) has been set up to effectively coordinate rescue and relief operations, he noted.

"The NFRCC is working on rehabilitation plans as the flood waters recede. This is a national effort in which everyone is contributing, from individual Pakistanis from all spheres of life to businesses, civil society, and humanitarian organizations, besides civil and military administrations."

The Pakistani government has listed the number of casualties caused by the heavy rainfall and floods since mid-June at over 1,700.

Recalling a visit to Pakistan's flood-hit areas by UN secretary general, Sharif said Antonio Guterres "repeatedly stated that countries like Pakistan, who have done almost nothing to contribute to global warming, do not deserve to be amongst the frontline countries impacted the most by climate change."

"I reiterate his words that it is not just a matter of solidarity but a matter of justice. This phenomenon of death, devastation, and destruction is driven by climate change, the causes of which are global. Therefore, the response calls for international solidarity and collective action," said the Pakistani premier.

Inter-state ties should be 'based on mutual respect'

Sharif said Pakistan's "longstanding and broad-based relationship" with the US is "committed to deepen and widen."

"In recent months, engagement between both countries has been quite productive and substantial. Our interactions at various levels have intensified, which manifests in that the relationship is strengthening," Sharif said in response to questions from Anadolu Agency.

Recalling a recent interaction with US President Joe Biden in New York, he said there had been "several high-level visits including congressional delegations and by members of the (US) administration."

"These interactions have yielded positive results and further solidified our ties," he said, thanking Washington for its $97 million of support for Pakistani flood victims.

The two countries, celebrating 75 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties, are "charting out a promising course for the decades ahead," said Sharif.

He called the US an "important trading partner" and added that the two countries were "exploring more ways to strengthen bilateral trade and commercial ties."

"Some of the US companies are doing quite well in Pakistan. We encourage major US companies to invest in Pakistan's lucrative market and enhance commercial ties, particularly in our growing IT sector," he said, encouraging more student exchanges between the two countries.

Commending the "strong Pakistani diaspora" in the US, Sharif said they were "acting as a bridge to deepen the ties between our two countries and the people."

Pakistan is also cooperating closely with the US "to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan," while also pursuing a foreign policy of "friendliness and goodwill towards all countries," he said.

"Pakistan has traditionally maintained good relations with the United States and China. Historically, it was Pakistan that acted as a bridge in opening up the relationship between the United States and the People's Republic of China," he noted.

"While the Pakistan-China relationship is very special, Pakistan and the US have also maintained a longstanding historic bilateral relationship, which is broad-based in nature and covers all issues of mutual interest.

"We believe that constructive engagement with all countries can promote peace and security, as well as development and connectivity in the whole region. We look forward to remaining engaged with the international community for peace and stability in the region and beyond," said the Pakistani premier.

Sharif said Pakistan "strongly believes that inter-state relations should be based on mutual respect and peaceful resolution of issues by upholding of principles of UN charter and international law."

China 'mindful' of complex regional environment, risks

On relations with China, Sharif said his recent meetings with the Chinese leadership "injected new impetus in our joint efforts to ensure timely progress and implementation of major projects."

"Important understandings were reached on advancing flagship projects such as the Main Line I and Karachi Circular Railway (ML-I/KCR) projects, as well as on the early implementation of the Framework Agreement on Industrial Cooperation.

"We also agreed to step up cooperation in green energy, science and technology, and agriculture, which are all important building blocks of CPEC's (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) high-quality development," he said.

Sharif underscored that Pakistan always "accorded high priority to the security and safety of our international partners in development."

"We have enhanced measures to maintain a safe and secure environment, which remains essential for investment and socioeconomic development.

"Both Pakistan and China are mindful of the complex regional environment and the risks it poses. We will continue to exercise heightened vigilance and ensure that our detractors' nefarious designs will fail," Sharif added.

India and Kashmir

On whether resolving the dispute over the Kashmir region remains a condition for resuming normal ties between Islamabad and New Delhi, Sharif said Pakistan's foreign policy was "one of friendliness and goodwill towards all."

"We want good relations with all neighbors, including India," said the prime minister.

However, he stressed that for "complete normalization" of relations, including the revival of trade ties, India must "reverse its actions" of Aug. 5, 2019, when New Delhi revoked the limited autonomy of Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.

Sharif also said India must end its "state terrorism" in Indian-administered Kashmir and not seek "demographic changes in the occupied territory to perpetuate its illegal occupation."

Referring to his inaugural address as prime minister, Sharif said he "reiterated our desire for maintaining 'good ties' with India.

"We, however, strongly believe that durable peace cannot be achieved without a just resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolutions and wishes of the Kashmiri people."

Sharif added that the "illegal and unilateral actions" of Aug. 5, 2019, and the subsequent steps in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir "have further vitiated the environment."

"The onus remains on India to create a conducive environment for meaningful engagement."

Hüseyin Demir

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