New Pak envoy to US Jilani to India: Take advantage of PM Sharif's peace initiative

JilaniJilani had earlier served in the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi. (Reuters)

Asking India to take advantage of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's "genuine interest" in improving ties, Pakistan's new envoy to the US Jalil Abbas Jilani has said New Delhi will "lose a big opportunity if they do not."

Jilani, who had earlier served in the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi, said Sharif had "genuine interest" in improving relations with India.

"They will lose a big opportunity if they do not," Jilani, the former foreign secretary, was quoted as saying by the Dawn.

Speaking on Afghanistan, he said the complete withdrawal of American troops from the war-torn country is not desirable.

"Even the talk of US pullout has started having its impact. Pakistan has started to receive more Afghan refugees than before," he said. "This shows that the people of Afghanistan too have fears."

The US plans to withdraw most of its combat troops from Afghanistan by December 2014, although it intends to leave behind a smaller force to help the Afghan government.

The Pak-US relationship will enter a critical phase this year. The Pakistani security establishment fears that India will fill up the vacuum created by the withdrawal.

Pakistan claims India is using Afghan territory for fomenting unrest in Balochistan, a charge denied by New Delhi.

On the other hand, India is wary of Pakistan's role in post-2014 Afghanistan, especially the military's links with militant groups like the Haqqani network, as it believes this will give Islamabad impetus for re-starting the Kashmir jihad.

Jilani, who reached Washington on Saturday, said his first priority would be strengthening trade and economic ties with the world's economic superpower.

"Defence and security ties obviously are equally important but cooperation in the energy sector would be the main task that one has to carry forward."

He agreed with the suggestion that 2014 would be crucial for determining America's role in South Asia, but said it's still early to speculate how the situation would shape up.

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