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PM Nawaz sees 'great chance' to open new chapter in relations

27 May, 2014

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NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the inauguration of Narendra Modi as his Indian counterpart Monday was a 'great opportunity' for the two nuclear neighbours to open a new chapter in relations.

"It is a great moment and a great opportunity," Nawaz, who is in New Delhi as a guest for the swearing-in ceremony, told the NDTV network.

"This is a chance to reach out to each other. Both governments have a strong mandate," he added, according to a transcript provided by the Pakistan High Commission.

"This could help in turning a new page in our relations."

Nawaz is the first Pakistani prime minister to attend the inauguration of an Indian leader since the creation of the two countries in 1947 after the end of British colonial rule.

The two countries have since fought three wars and remain bitterly divided over the Kashmir dispute.

But Nawaz, who is to hold bilateral talks with Modi on Tuesday (today), said that the neighbours should use their common heritage to help overcome their differences.

"No two nations have ever possessed so much of cultural and traditional similarities as India and Pakistan. Why not turn the similarities into our strength?" said Sharif.

"We should remove fears, mistrust and misgivings about each other. We should rid the region of instability and security that has plagued us for decades."

To a question about landslide win of the Bhartia Janata Party in recent Indian elections, Nawaz said that it is the same BJP of former prime minister Atal Bahari Vajpayee for whom he has the greatest of respect. "I intend taking up threads from where Vajpayee and I left off in 1999," he said. "I very much look forward to meeting Mr Modi," he said.

In a separate interview with Hindustan Times, Nawaz said he would be happy to have Indians invest in Pakistan and that he can offer them high returns on their investment.

"We have an acute shortage of energy. If Indians come, they will find Pakistani markets very attractive, with returns as high as 30 percent," the prime minister said.

The online edition of India's leading newspaper mentioned that Indian companies such as the Adani Group had proposed producing electricity to be sold to Pakistan, but such proposals had not taken off.

The news report said, "Sharif once again reminded Indian businesses of such opportunities". He said, "I am regarded as a friend of businessmen and we are regarded as a business-friendly government. Modi too is perceived as a business-friendly person. He has a model of development."

The newspaper said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif looked set to drive an agenda of 'trade and economics' at his bilateral meeting with Modi on Tuesday. Agencies

Trade between the two countries is presently around $2.5 billion, with Indian exports accounting for $1.75 billion, according to the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Some $3 billion more is thought to be channelled through Dubai, almost all of which is Pakistani imports, though the business community believes that if Pakistan grants India Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status the imbalance could change.

"Pakistan will get billions of dollars in benefit if it grants MFN status to India... It would also do away with many non-tariff barriers making Pakistani goods accessible to India," said Amin Hashwani, a Karachi-based businessman.

End.

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