Pakistan's Sharif seeks to ease mistrust with India

LAHORE (REUTERS) - Mr Nawaz Sharif, who is poised for victory after Pakistan's May 11 election, said he had spoken at length with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of rival India and would work to ease mistrust.

"Mutual fear needs to be addressed. I had long discussions,"Mr Sharif told reporters, adding that they extended invitations to visit each other's countries.

Relations between Pakistan and India have improved in recent years but ties are still held back by mutual suspicion.

Mr Sharif may not win enough seats to rule on his own but has made enough gains to avoid having to form a coalition with his main rivals, former cricketer Imran Khan's Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

"I am not against any coalition. But as far as Islamabad is concerned. we are ourselves in a position to form our own government," said Mr Sharif. "All those who share our vision we will be happy to work with them."

He will inherit a host of challenges from the PPP, which failed to tackle corruption, poverty, and a Taleban insurgency during its rule over the past five years.

Pakistan's fragile economy is likely to need another bailout from the International Monetary Fund to avoid another balance of payments crisis.

Mr Sharif has suggested he would be willing to implement politically sensitive reforms in order to secure billions of dollars from the global lender.

He has picked senator Ishaq Dar as his finance minister in the new cabinet that he is putting together after leading his party back to power, a party spokesman said.

Mr Dar, who served as finance minister in a previous Sharif cabinet in the 1990s, has said he plans to push provincial governments to collect agricultural taxes, a policy that could set him on a collision course with some of the Pakistan Muslim League's (PML-N) wealthy backers.

While an improvement in revenue collection is seen as vital, analysts say any sustainable gains for Pakistan's economy would have to come through normalising relations with India.

Turning to Pakistan's thorny relationship with the United States, Mr Sharif said "we need to listen to each other".

Anti-American sentiment runs high in Pakistan, where US drone strikes are seen as a violation of sovereignty.

"I think we have good relations with the United States of America. We need to listen to each other," said Mr Sharif.

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