ISLAMABAD: Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa on Thursday asserted that stable Indo-Pakistan relation is a ‘key to unlock the untapped potential of South and Central Asia’ and stressed that “it is time to bury the past and move forward.”

Addressing the participants of ‘Islamabad Security Dialogue’ organized by the National Security Division, the army chief stated that Pakistan is ready to resolve all outstanding disputes with its neighbors through dialogue in a dignified and peaceful manner, asking India to create conducive environment, particularly in Indian occupied Kashmir.

Kashmir dispute is obviously at the head of this problem, he said, adding that it is important to understand that without the resolution of Kashmir dispute through peaceful means, process of sub-continental rapprochement will always remain susceptible to derailment due to politically motivated bellicosity.

“However, we feel that it is time to bury the past and move forward. But for resumption of peace process or meaningful dialogue, our neighbour will have to create conducive environment, particularly in Indian occupied Kashmir,” the COAS asserted.

He pointed out that South Asia is home to one quarter of world's population and despite tremendous human and resource potential, the unsettled disputes are dragging this region back to the swamp of poverty and underdevelopment.

He said it is saddening to know that even today it is among the least integrated regions of the world in terms of trade, infrastructure, water and energy cooperation.

He pointed out that despite being one of the most impoverished regions of the world, ‘we end up spending a lot of money on our defence, which naturally conies at the expense of human development.’

He stated that Pakistan has been one of the few countries, which despite the rising security challenges has resisted the temptation of involving itself into an arms race.

He said Pakistan’s defence expenditures have rather reduced instead of increasing. “This is not an easy undertaking especially once you live in a hostile and unstable neighbourhood…Let me say profoundly that we are ready to improve our environment by resolving all our outstanding issues with our neighbours through dialogue in a dignified and peaceful manner.

However, it is important to state that, this choice is deliberate and based on rationality and not as a result of any pressure,” he made it clear, adding that it is our sincere desire to re-cast Pakistan's image as a peace-loving nation and a useful member of international community.

“Our leadership’s vision is Alhamdullilah transformational in this regard. We have learned from the past to evolve and are willing to move ahead towards a new future, however, all this is contingent upon reciprocity,” the COAS added.

Speaking about the geo-economic importance of Pakistan, General Bajwa said Pakistan is a nation with tremendous geo-economic potential. In order to carve a promising future for our people, he added that it is important for to embark upon a solid economic roadmap, backed up by infrastructural developments and regional integration.

This geo-economic vision is centered around four core pillars, he said, adding, (i): moving towards a lasting and enduring peace within and outside, (ii): Noninterference of any kind in the internal affairs of our neighbouring and regional countries, (iii): Boosting intra-regional trade and connectivity, (iv) Bringing sustainable development and prosperity through establishment of investment and economic hubs within the region.

He said Pakistan has been working towards all four aspects with unity of purpose and synchronization within the various components of national security. “We had realized that unless our own house is in order, nothing good could be expected from outside. Now, after having overpowered the menace of terrorism and tide of extremism, we have begun to work towards sustainable development and improving economic conditions of under-developed areas,” the army chief added.

He said Pakistan Army has contributed tremendously towards this national cause by rebuilding and mainstreaming some of the most neglected areas through massive development drives besides ensuring peace and security.

“Our long campaign against the tide of terrorism and extremism manifests our resolve and national will. We have come long way and yet we are a bit short of our final objective but we are determined to stay the course,” he added.

He pointed out that the contemporary concept of national security is not only about protecting a country from internal and external threats but also providing conducive environment in which aspirations of human security, national progress and development could be realized.

“Surely, it is not solely a function of armed forces any more. National security in the age of globalization, information and connectivity has now become an all-encompassing notion; wherein, besides various elements of national power, global and regional environment also play a profound role National security is thus multi-layered,” he added.

He stated that a nation at peace and a region in harmony are essential prerequisites for attainment of national security in the true spirit. “No national leaders of today can ignore these factors. I also firmly believe that no single nation in isolation can perceive and further its quest for security, as every single issue and security dilemma faced by today's world is intimately linked with global and regional dynamics,” he said, adding that ‘history has taught us that the way ahead has always been through an interconnected, interdependent and collective sense of security.’

He termed the economic security and cooperation as the central point of the leading drivers of change in the world, adding that frayed relations between various power centers of the globe and boomeranging of competing alliances can bring nothing but another stint of cold war.

In this environment, developing countries like Pakistan, today faces multi-dimensional challenges, which cannot be navigated single-handedly, he added.

“Similar situation is confronted by other countries in our region as well. Therefore, we all require a multilateral global and regional approach and cooperation to overcome these challenges,” the army chief further asserted.

On Afghanistan, General Bajwa said Pakistan’s robust role in current quest for peace in Afghanistan is a proof of our goodwill and understanding of our global and moral obligations. He said that Pakistan’s close collaboration and crucial support for the peace process has led to the historic agreement between Taliban and US and paved the way for intra-Afghan dialogue.

“We will continue to emphasize on a sustained and inclusive peace process for the betterment of people of Afghanistan and regional peace,” he said.

He said Pakistan has also undertaken unprecedented steps to enhance Afghan trade and connectivity which include; reenergizing Afghan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement and also providing access to Afghanistan to export her goods to India, improving economic and trade environment along Pak-Afghan border by establishing border markets and development of infrastructure and being part of energy and trade corridors binding Central, South and West Asia through land routes and inviting Afghanistan to be part of CPEC.

The COAS added that CPEC has been at the heart of our economic transformation plan and ‘we have left no quarter to declare its necessity for addressing our economic woes.’

Our sincere efforts to make it [CPEC] inclusive, transparent and attractive for all global and regional players, with the aim of bringing its benefits to everyone…Let me also emphasize that while CPEC remains central to our vision, only seeing Pakistan through CPEC prism is also misleading,” he added.

“We also see a hope in the form of incoming US administration which can transform the traditional contestation into a gainful economic win-win for the world in general and the region in particular South Asia can be the starting point for regional cooperation,” he said, adding that he has a firm belief that economic and sustainable human development can guide ‘us into a future, full of peace and prosperity’.

He asserted that it is time that we in South Asia create synergy through connectivity, peaceful co-existence and resource sharing to fight hunger, illiteracy and disease instead of fighting each other.

In his address Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that Pakistan has decided not to be a part of any regional conflict and has consciously chosen to be only a partner for peace and development. He said that Pakistan is calling for inclusive and cooperative approaches based on enhanced economic partnerships.

“We are positioning Pakistan as an economic hub and melting pot for positive global interests,” he said. Centered on economic security, he added that Pakistan’s focus is on the three pillars of: connectivity; providing economic bases as development strategy; and peace within our borders and beyond.

He said Pakistan will remain committed to peaceful co-existence, cooperative multilateralism, and win-win outcomes, adding that Pakistan’s primary interest is in sustaining a peaceful, stable and prosperous world order that takes everyone on board and leaves no one behind.

“We will always support a rules-based and inclusive global order, for advancing the shared objectives of peace, progress and prosperity,” he said, adding: “We call for shedding zero-sum perspectives, and for preferring cooperation over confrontation.”

He said Pakistan’s vision of peace, development, and connectivity offers an entirely new paradigm, adding that the international community, particularly the Western world, needs to update their perceptions and their outlooks.

“Enhanced trade, investment, energy security, tourism, and people-to-people exchanges are our higher priorities,” he added.

“Durable peace, security and development in the region hinge on peaceful resolution of the long-standing Jammu and Kashmir dispute,” he said. He added that the current government had, at the outset in 2018, offered that if India took one step forward for peace, Pakistan will take two.

“But, unfortunately, India chose to take several steps backwards. And the world saw the consequences. South Asia once again teetered on the brink,” he said. He said that India must stop violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in IIOJK; halt its illegal attempts to change the demographic structure in the occupied territory; and implement the UN Security Council resolutions which guarantee the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination through a free and impartial plebiscite under UN auspices.

Qureshi said India must also rethink its policy of fomenting destabilization in Pakistan and embrace a progressive agenda that can benefit the entire region.

“Mutually agreed restraints on nuclear capabilities and conventional forces remain indispensable for strategic stability in South Asia. In essence, the onus is on India to create an enabling environment,” Qureshi added.