LAHORE: Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Tuesday said Pakistan and India had no option but to promote peace, and expressed his firm resolve to take the peace process forward by promoting the bilateral trade and cooperation as it was the only way to achieve the goal of lasting peace.
"We have to settle the bitter past and bury the hatchet by solving the thorny issues like Kashmir once and for all. If such issues are buried 'half dead', they will keep coming back to haunt us and disrupt the peace process," he said while making the keynote address at the concluding session of the second two-day Indo-Pak Economic Conference titled "Dividends" held under the Aman Ki Asha initiative here on Tuesday.
The Valedictory session titled "Tapping the Wellspring of Hope: Aman Ki Asha" was chaired by Adi Godrej, President, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), whereas another keynote speaker was Imran Aslam, President, Geo TV Network.
Shahbaz Sharif said both the countries must understand and address all problem areas to marginalise the extremists and bigots on both sides; otherwise, they will have a chance to rock the boat. "We have to move forward with unity of thought by removing all stumbling blocks in the peace process," he said, warning: "If we failed, we would give another chance to the hawks on both sides to thrive upon our mistakes and derail the peace process."
Shahbaz Sharif recalled that his brother Nawaz Sharif, as the prime minister, initiated efforts to convert into a reality the dream of a lasting peace between Pakistan and India a decade ago through bus diplomacy, which resulted in the historic Lahore Declaration. "I am the brother of that prime minister who achieved this feat and am ready to continue this process to its logical conclusion," he said.
He warned that the journey for peace was long and difficult, and those who think it will be like milk and honey lived in a fools' paradise. While we talk of peace and trade, we have to have better understanding and leave behind the bitter memories. He exhorted both sides to grab the opportunity, warning that if they failed again, history would never forgive them.
He said both the sides could cooperate and exchange their expertise for the betterment of their peoples, like India could share its expertise in steel while Pakistan in the textile sector to the benefit of each other.
He said expansion of trade through the Punjab on both sides was in the better interest of the two countries since they could cut the cost of production and increase profits by using the proximity of the natural trade route instead of going long distances to ports of Mumbai and Karachi.
He conluded his speech with the slogans 'Pakistan Zindabad, India Zindabad'.When asked by one of the participants of the conference whether both the countries should leave the contentious issues behind for a few years to focus on promoting the bilateral trade and relations, Shahbaz said solving the contentious issues was necessary to establish a lasting peace and "we have to satisfy our people that the contentious issues hindering progress on both sides are not being frozen". He recalled that India and China had solved their problems, which had made them enemies in the past, but now they were business partners after settling their disputes.
To another question about with sincerity we could resume the bus diplomacy which was sabotaged by hawkish elements. He said India being the bigger country and economy should play a bigger role by showing bigger flexibility. He assured that if Delhi would take one step, Islamabad would reciprocate with two steps forward.
President Geo TV Network Imran Aslam said Pakistan and India were standing on the cusp of change where they have to strive to create enabling environment of uninterrupted exchange to invest in the future of their people.
He said only the two peoples and their development will ensure real dividends for both countries, but it was important for all of us to have a level playing field. Talking about issues concerning restrictions on showing Pakistani TV channels in India, he said Indian channels were freely available in Pakistani cable networks but sadly the absence of Pakistani channels in India had damaged Pakistan. What is happening in Pakistan should be shown to the people in India, he went on to say. He said we have to comprehend and address the grey areas.
About freedom and fairness of Pakistani media, he said on the issue of Ajmal Kasab, Geo was called a traitor for highlighting the fact that he belonged to Pakistan. President and chairman of Godrej Group, Adi Godrej, who chaired the concluding session, termed the two-day conference a meeting of hearts and minds. He talked about identification of crucial issues through a process of constructive dialogue. He also termed land trade route between India and Pakistan a preferred way of trade.