NEW YORK

In probably his first interview with a foreign newspaper after his PML-N party emerged as the leading party in Saturday’s elections in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif said he would seek improved ties with the United States.

The former Prime Minister also said he would work to promote good relations with Afghanistan and India.

“The relationship with the US was quite good when I was in power,”  he was quoted as saying by the Wall Street Journal.

“I’d like to take this relationship further. We need to strengthen the relationship.”

In a dispatch from Lahore that included PML-N leader’s interview, The Wall Street Journal Correspondent said, “On the campaign trail, Nawaz Sharif shied from condemning the Pakistani Taliban, who, in turn, focused their attacks in the run-up to the elections on the secular parties of the previous governing coalition.”

Nawaz said he was confident he would find an agreement with the US on controversial issues, such as American drone strikes against al Qaeda-affiliated militants in the Tribal Areas on the Afghan border.

The WSJ correspondent noted that the drone strikes are “highly unpopular in Pakistan, and Nawaz Sharif’s main rival in the campaign, former cricket star Imran Khan, pledged to shoot down the American drones if elected to power.”

“These are the concerns that the Pakistani people have,” Nawaz said when asked about the drone strikes. “We’ll need to address these concerns. I’m very hopeful and confident about that.”

Nawaz also offered an olive branch to neighbouring Afghanistan, whose President Hamid Karzai has frequently accused Pakistan of sponsoring the Taliban insurgency in his country.

“We need good relations with Afghanistan,” he said.

“We will be supporting it as a whole. We have no intention to take any sides there.”

Turning to India, Nawaz noted that, before the then Army chief Pervez Musharraf ousted him in a 1999 coup, he worked hard towards a detente with New Delhi.

“We’ll pick the threads where we left. We want to move towards better relations with India, to resolve the remaining issues through peaceful means, including that of Kashmir,” he said.

This time in power, he added, he didn’t expect to deal with a hostile military establishment.

“There is no problem with the military,” he said.

“I don’t think the military is responsible for what Musharraf did—he did it in his personal capacity. The military should not be blamed for this.”

Meanwhile, American media lauded Pakistanis for braving Taliban threats to vote in a historic election, with a leading newspaper saying that Nawaz Sharif’s triumph ‘signalled a victory of sorts for old-style dynastic politics’.

“The Sharifs have dominated Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, since the 1980s, and have cultivated voters for the past five years through development projects financed by the provincial government, which they controlled,” the New York Times said in a dispatch from Lahore.

The newspaper said Sharif’s margin of victory against Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaf party meant that the cricket legend’s promises of revolutionary ‘tsunami’ had vanished.

“The other loser was President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party, which led the last government but now seems destined to the opposition benches...

“Record turnout was reported in several cities, incited by an energised political campaign dominated by the battle between Sharif and Imran Khan, the former cricket star whose appeal as an anti-corruption crusader had many predicting he could play a kingmaker role.”

The Washington Post called Nawaz Sharif ‘a realist’ in a news story and noted in an editorial that during his previous term as prime minister, which was ended by a 1999 military coup, Nawaz Sharif had a relatively cooperative relationship with the (former president Bill) Clinton’s administration.

“The Obama administration will have to hope that the conventional wisdom predicting that Mr Sharif will become prime minister will prove correct and that the 63-year-old political war horse will deliver on his promises to revive the economy. He has pledged to tackle the severe power shortages that are crippling Pakistani industry and build new infrastructure, including even a bullet train across the country,” the newspaper noted in the editorial.

In reference to Pakistan’s nuclear testing in response to Indian atomic explosions in May 1998, the newspaper report also noted that Nawaz Sharif brought his country into world’s nuclear club.

Meanwhile, a report in USA Today said if confirmed, Sharif’s victory would be a remarkable comeback for the 63-year-old, who has twice served as the country’s premier but was toppled in a military coup in 1999. He spent years in exile before returning to the country in 2007.

The Times in a dispatch said even with just partial returns in early Sunday, Sharif’s party appeared to have secured enough seats to form a government easily. His supporters ran cheering through the streets of Lahore, honking horns and, in some instances, firing bursts of celebratory gunfire.

“While Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is poised to control the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, along the Afghan border – with potentially sharp implications for American policy - it is Sharif who is likely to have the greatest impact on relations with the United States.”

“A nationalist by inclination, Sharif, while publicly amenable to reaching out to the Americans, has also hinted that he was open to negotiating with Taliban rebels in the northwest,” a report in the paper noted.