RIYADH: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday vowed to hold peace talks with arch-rival India following elections in the neighboring country, after a similar offer from the former cricketer was “rebuffed.”
Khan made the announcement during a speech at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) in Riyadh. The leader launched a charm offensive targeting potential investors as Pakistan seeks to secure funds amid a yawning balance of payments crisis.
“When I won the elections and came to power, the first thing I tried to do was extend a hand of peace to India,” Khan told the audience, saying the overture was later “rebuffed” by Delhi.
“Now what we are hoping is that we wait until the elections then again we will resume our peace talks with India,” he added, referring to nationwide polls scheduled to take place by mid-May.
In September India pulled the plug on a rare meeting between its foreign minister and its Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of a UN summit — a move that was termed “arrogant” by Khan and unleashed a barrage of insults from both sides.
India has long accused Pakistan of backing militants in Kashmir, a Himalayan territory divided between the two countries but claimed in full by both since independence in 1947.
Delhi has stationed about 500,000 soldiers in the portion of Kashmir it controls, where separatist groups demand independence or a merger with Pakistan.
Khan also told the FII event that his country looks forward to a strong investment partnership with Saudi Arabia, including on energy projects.
Pakistan needs two oil refineries to meet demand, Khan said, and talks are underway with Saudi investors about the projects.
During the panel discussion Khan discussed investment, a corrupt-free Pakistan and “Naya Pakistan.” Naya Pakistan refers to a return to the principles of the country’s founding fathers: Truth, justice, meritocracy, the welfare state and, above all, the education of its people. He said it was particularly important to raise female literacy in Pakistan.
Khan has been in power for 60 days but has inherited a massive debt. “We need to increase our exports because we have a shortage of foreign reserves,” he said.
Khan is looking for mix of loans from the International Monetary Fund IMF and “friendly governments” to address the shortfall.
Key priorities were fighting corruption and creating jobs, Khan added, saying clamping down on money laundering was a major priority for the government.
“Corruption is what makes a country poor,” he said. “It’s the difference between the developing world and an underdeveloped country. Corruption does two things; it destroys institution and diverts money from human development.”
With 100 million people below the age of 35, Khan said unemployment and housing were big pressures on the government but that Pakistan has embarked on an ambitious program to build five million homes in the next five years. He said the information technology sector could be an area where Pakistan could improve its exports and provide new jobs.
“Pakistan is a country with potential. We have lost our way since the 60s but now Pakistan is ready and our biggest resource is the youth. And today is the best time to invest,” he said.
Minerals, gold, copper reserves, zinc, gas, unexplored gas and tourism were areas that investors would be interested in, Khan said.
“There is a vast amount of mineral wealth in Pakistan. We have some of the largest gold reserves in the world, as well as reserves of copper and zinc. Tourism is also a vital sector and has flourished in recent years.”
Khan said that Pakistan had now “controlled terrorism.”
“We need peace and stability and when Afghanistan’s situation settles, terrorism will end and the investments will grow to the central Asia region.”
Khan said he admired China for tackling two problems that were the main issues facing Pakistan — poverty and corruption.
In the past China had a large population that was on the brink of starvation but it had now brought 7 million people out of poverty and clamped down on corruption. Khan said that he was traveling to China next month for help in these two areas.