OKARA – President Asif Ali Zardari Friday hinted at opening up Head Sulemanki border for trade with India, saying Pakistan is willing to have dialogue with the neighbouring country to improve the bilateral ties.

“We are open to trade with India and I will talk to the prime minister” for opening of Sulemanki border, the president said while addressing the PPP workers. He revealed that he was also examining the possibility of connecting Multan with the Indian border cities. After offering a prayer for the soldiers buried in Siachen, the president questioned the possibility of a unilateral withdrawal of troops from the “world’s highest battlefield”.

Two days back Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani proposed demilitarisation of Siachen. And opposition PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif urged the two countries to withdraw troops from Siachen, where harsh weather has killed more troops of the two countries than fighting. Nawaz had also suggested to the government to take initiative of withdrawing troops even if India is unwilling to withdraw the troops first.

“How can there be a unilateral withdrawal? Have we been sitting for 10 years doing nothing?” President Zardari questioned. “Yes, our soldiers are rendering sacrifices but we are a nation who makes sacrifices.” He pointed out that it’s not just Pakistan that is bearing the brunt; “India is suffering more losses in Siachen than Pakistan.”

India had occupied its areas at Siachen in 1984 and Pakistan has been demanding withdrawal of Indian troops to the previous positions. The dispute over Siachen has been in focus since an avalanche hit a Pakistan Army camp on April 7, burying 138 soldiers and civilians under heavy snow. The conflict had brought thousands of Pakistani and Indian troops eyeball to eyeball at Siachen in mid-80s. Guns at Siachen have been silent since a ceasefire in 2003 along the Line of Control, which divides Pakistan and India in the disputed Kashmir region.

President Zardari maintained Pakistan was ready to resolve all disputes with India through dialogue and he had discussed with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ways to promote trade and other ties during his visit to India this month.

But, Zardari said, if Pakistan unilaterally withdrew troops from Siachen then the people will criticise this decision. Pakistan and India should hold talks to pull-out their troops from the region simultaneously, he suggested. “If India withdraws its troops we will be ready to take similar step.”

It was not just Siachen on which Zardari questioned the wisdom of PML-N leadership rather he went on to attack them on domestic front. The PPP co-chairman said he knows all the power in their party rests with the ‘Baray Mian’ (Nawaz), while ‘Chotay Mian’ (Shabaz) has nothing in his hands.

Boasting his dissemination of power to the parliament and provinces, Zardari criticised Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for “accumulating” 17 ministries to himself. “This is the difference between Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and other parties… How can one person handle 17 ministries?” He added, “I had power, I could dissolve the parliament, but I diluted it (presidential power) in every form and distributed it.”

Zardari said that politics was “our life and our politics starts from Garhi Khudabakhsh and ends over there”. “A politician’s last weapon is dialogue. If you’re not talking today, it doesn’t mean you won’t have to talk tomorrow,” he remarked. “What these parties do not understand is reconciliation. If you cannot reconcile with other parties, how can you have good relations with other countries when you’re in power?” he questioned.

The president said that he granted autonomy to the provinces to make unity. He said he understand the problems of Punjab and added, “I have given huge funds to Punjab but they could not be seen anywhere.” Slamming Sharif brother’s initiatives, Zardari said PPP will get back Punjab in next elections.

President Zardari was on a one-day visit and during the visit he inaugurated a school in Okara. He also distributed the keys of tractors among farmers. He said that tenants would be given rights of ownership in two phases.