Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. REUTERS/Mian
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called for
better relations with India in a conciliatory gesture on
national television after weeks of increased military activity
along the two nations' disputed border.
Nawaz Sharif's words may do little to placate Indian
politicians furious over the August 6 deaths of five Indian
soldiers on their side of the heavily militarised Line of
Control, which runs through the territory of Kashmir.
"I have made better relations with India my priority. And in
the May election, the nation stood by me," Sharif said in a
speech, referring to his landslide victory in recent polls.
"Wars between India and Pakistan have put us behind decades.
Now we should not be fighting one another but come together
to fight poverty and illiteracy."
India accuses Pakistan of being behind the soldiers' deaths
and of sponsoring militant attacks across the Kashmir border
as a way to increase pressure on India in Afghanistan ahead
of the 2014 drawdown of NATO troops.
Pakistan has denied involvement and instead accused India of
opening fire and killing one of its soldiers in late July.
Also the same month, police in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir
said four civilians who had gone to collect herbs near the
Line of Control had gone missing and their families believed
they had been detained by the Indian army.
India enjoys warm relations with the Afghan government, but
Pakistan's powerful military has frequently been accused of
backing Taliban insurgents fighting the Afghan government -
accusations they strongly deny.
Hindu-majority India and Islamic Pakistan have fought three
wars since independence in 1947 and came close to a fourth in
1999. Each nation is suspicious that the other wants a proxy
government in Afghanistan.
Critics sad that while Sharif's speech was clear on his
desire to improve ties with India, he sent mixed signals on
how he plans to tackle militancy within Pakistan.
"I would like to take a step forward and invite those
elements for dialogue who have unfortunately taken the path
of extremism," Sharif said in his speech.
But he also refused to rule out the use of force, although it
was unclear when or how it might be deployed.
"Like every Pakistani, I want to put an end to this bloodshed
as soon as possible, whether this is done through mutual
understanding at the negotiating table or the use of full
fledged state force," Sharif said.
He did not address previous preconditions for talks raised by
the Taliban, including a breaking of relations with the
United States and resumption of hostilities with India.