ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif on Thursday said externally-sponsored terrorism and violent extremism were grave threats to a secure and prosperous Pakistan, and the country would protect its interests at all costs.

“We will protect our vital interests at all costs. This message must be heard loud and clear,” he said in his address to the Envoys Conference of Saarc and ECO regions.

The prime minister said Pakistani nation was dismayed by the recent irresponsible and imprudent statements by Indian political leadership.

“This vitiates the atmosphere and takes us further away from our goals of regional peace and stability,” he said.

However, he said Pakistan would not abandon its high moral ground because of provocations.

“We will persevere in our quest for a peaceful neighbourhood. But there should be reciprocity and acknowledgement of the overtures I have made to promote the dialogue process,” he said.

Sharif said the issue of Jammu and Kashmir could not be relegated to the back burner of history and mentioned his meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Tajikistan where he reminded him that it was incumbent on the UN Security Council to ensure early implementation of its resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir.

He termed the conference’s theme of ‘Connectivity’ as most apt and timely due to the Saarc and ECO regions geostrategy, economic and trade arteries, and rich natural and human resources.

He mentioned that the government’s vision anchored in the Quaid’s dictum of “peace within, and peace without”, was working to safeguard national interests, build a peaceful neigbourhood, spur economic diplomacy and provide high quality services to the Pakistani community abroad.

The prime minister said Pakistan was a strong proponent of regional economic integration for creation of new opportunities for jobs, businesses, industrial production and agricultural growth in the region.

He said Pakistan was both a conduit and a destination for investment, trade, production and distribution and had also embarked on the project of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

He said this mega-project was a transformational and a game changer for Pakistan and for the region which would, in due course, also benefit adjoining and peripheral regions.

He urged the regional countries to create greater awareness about this historic initiative, dispel misgivings about it and harness resources for the project which will build the Gwadar Port as the regional trans-shipment pivot supported by a network of roads, railway lines, power plants, industrial zones, pipelines and fiber optic cables.

The prime minister said Pakistan’s promise as an ascending nation and a lucrative market was being recognised by world capitals and global markets.

He said democracy was taking root in the country as the government was reaching decisions through consultation and consensus.

He said a series of steps had been taken to consolidate macroeconomic stability, control budgetary deficit, strengthen public finances, reduce inflation and increase foreign exchange reserves.

The premier said that government was according highest priority to security and energy to ensure that Pakistan should continue to move on the pathway to economic revival, inclusive growth and social development.

He mentioned the Operation Zarb-e-Azb which had already taken down terrorists’ networks, disrupted their command and control system and debilitated their supporting infrastructure.

Prime Minister Sharif said it was the time for Saarc and ECO to become connectivity backbones for south, central and west Asia and added that Pakistan should continue its efforts in this regard.

“We must advance our vision of economic cohesion by constructing physical infrastructure, reviving and reinforcing transportation networks, building energy corridors and developing transit hubs,” he said.

He said Pakistan would give full support to cross-regional projects focusing on energy and water security, value addition, research, science and technology and modernisation.

He urged the participants of conference to improve their consular and community services for the expatriates.

The prime minister also mentioned the National Action Plan, which enjoys consensus across the political spectrum and gives the necessary framework to counter terrorism effectively and decisively.

“We will spare nobody as we choke financing for terrorism and sectarian violence; and disable terrorists’ logistical support systems,” he said.

The Envoys Conference held at Ministry of Foreign Affairs from June 9-11 was attended by Pakistan’s ambassadors from 14 countries of Saarc and ECO regions.

The conference focused on the foreign policy challenges that Pakistan faces in its immediate and extended neighbourhood, in the light of developments within the region.

The envoys deliberated on connectivity in the region and presented recommendations.