ISLAMABAD - Chairman PTI Imran Khan yesterday expressed shock over the revelation by an Indian journalist that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had held a secret "deniable" meeting with his Indian counterpart in 2014 on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu.

Imran Khan said he believed peace between Pakistan and India was critical for the prosperity of the people of the subcontinent, especially as peace would ensure economic vibrancy through trade and investment opportunities. He added the best way to reduce poverty in the subcontinent was through peace and trade. However, peace requires conflict resolution and de-escalation of military tensions along the border, the LOC (Line of Control) and the Working Boundary. Imran Khan also asserted that it was the leadership that must take bold initiatives and convince their people to move forward with dignity and confidence.

Unfortunately, Imran Khan pointed out, the present leadership of Pakistan and India lacked the courage and the conviction, which has led them to hold secret meetings that can be denied. While PM Modi is a prisoner of his extremist right wing supporters, PM Sharif conveys a deep-rooted fearfulness of the establishment. This inability to move forward confidently by Sharif is also undermining the credibility of the Pakistan military at a critical juncture in our history when the military is combating terrorism across the country.

Imran Khan expressed dismay that the secret meeting in Kathmandu was enabled by an Indian steel magnate. Given the Sharifs steel business interests, Imran Khan said that PM Sharif clearly has a conflict of interest between these and the national interest of the country. He reminded how PM Sharif was the first Pakistan premier who, while visiting New Delhi for Modi's inauguration as PM, failed to find time to meet the APHC delegation - because of his meetings with Indian business magnates. Now it seems the Kathmandu secret "non-meeting" meeting was also the result of facilitation by steel magnate Sajjan Jindal - with whom the Sharif family also has business ties. Serious concerns over conflict of interest were raised at the time of the PM's India visit and his meetings with Indian industrialists, especially the steel magnates, where it was feared Pakistan may unilaterally concede transit rights to India's steel magnate across Pakistan through to Afghanistan. The clandestine manner of Sharif's interaction with the Indian PM in Kathmandu, through the steel magnate interlocutor bolsters these concerns.

Chairman PTI asserted that leaders lead and initiate policies especially when political breakthroughs are required. Leaders are expected to convince their nations of their initiatives, not hide and have "deniable" secret meetings through their business interests. Leaders should not be held hostage to the past but must carry their nations forward learning the lessons of the past. Unfortunately, PM Sharif seems unable to take any policy initiative or even a position of clarity on India publicly.

Imran Khan also questioned the most recent whispered interaction in Paris between Sharif and Modi, which also raised serious questions, as there has been a complete silence over what transpired in that tete-a-tete. At a time when mistrust and hostility between the two neighbours is at a peak, Sharif as PM should inform the nation of what was exchanged in that conversation, he added.

PTI chief challenged: "If the PM is convinced of the rightness of his cause then he should not fear public reaction but rather he should lead the public by convincing them of his position on India. Simply cowering in fear and resorting to clandestine meetings is not the hallmark of a strong confident leader with conviction; instead it betrays a complete lack of conviction and a fear because he knows that there is a very real conflict of interest between his private business interests and the nation's interests."