Washington: Nawaz Sharif, poised for a record third term as Pakistan Prime Minister after his party's emphatic win in the landmark general elections, has vowed to pursue better relations with the US while seeking "warmer ties" with India. In an interview to The Wall Street Journal after the impressive victory of Pakistan Muslim League-N in the polls, Sharif recalled that his country's relationship with the US was quite good when he was in power.
"I'd like to take this relationship further. We need to strengthen the relationship," said 63-year-old Sharif, who has held the top position twice in the past. "The US may wish to re-examine its drone campaign or risk stoking the anti-Americanism that feeds Pakistani public anger," Nawaz said, referring to the strong opposition to the controversial drone strikes by the CIA inside Pakistan.
Responding to questions on the drone strikes, Sharif said he would discuss these issues of concerns with the US leadership. "These are the concerns that the Pakistani people have," Sharif said, when asked about the drone operations.
"We'll need to address these concerns. I'm very hopeful and confident about that," he added. According to The Wall Street Journal, Sharif said he would "seek warmer ties" with India and offered an "olive branch" to Afghanistan.
Sharif who was ousted by the army in 1999 said he expects a smooth relationship with the military this time. "There is no problem with the military," he said. "I don't think the military is responsible for what Musharraf did, he did it in his personal capacity. The military should not be blamed for this," he told the journal.
On Sunday, both US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry said that they were looking forward to working with the new government of Pakistan. "The US and Pakistan have a long history of working together on mutual interests, and my administration looks forward to continuing our cooperation with the Pakistani government that emerges from this election as equal partners in supporting a more stable, secure, and prosperous future for the people of Pakistan," Obama said in a statement.
"We'll be working with the new government to advance shared interests including a peaceful, more prosperous and stable future for Pakistan and the region," Kerry said in a statement. Shuja Nawaz, eminent Pakistan expert based in Washington, argued that there is unlikely to be any major change in US-Pakistan relations.
"I do not see any major shift in the relationship in the near term. There is much co-dependency on both sides," Nawaz, South Asia Center Director of the Atlantic Council, an eminent Washington-based think tank, said. "But under Nawaz Sharif there will likely be a review of the relationship and a pragmatic realignment, if needed, to secure his base at home," he said.
Writing in Wall Street Journal, columnist Sadanand Dhume said, "with his strong base in Punjab and personal experience with military meddling in politics, Sharif is best qualified to consolidate Pakistan's democratic gains". In interviews he has made it clear that the prime minister, not the unelected army chief, is the country's ruler, wrote Dhume, who is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a US think-tank.
"He (Sharif) has also pledged to work with the US to combat terrorism instead of mindlessly confronting a superpower to play to the gallery in the manner of Mr (Imran) Khan. In a similar vein, Mr Sharif speaks consistently of improving ties with India, and of placing them on a firmer footing based on trade, travel and investment," Dhume wrote.
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