Improved ties are important as India offers a billion-plus market to Pakistani exporters
Wary of non-state actors throwing a spanner in the works as New Delhi and Islamabad inch closer, Pakistan on Monday stressed the need to remain eternally vigilant to ensure that forces inimical to India-Pakistan peace do not derail the process that is slowly gaining momentum.
Inaugurating the second ‘Aman Ki Asha’ Indo-Pak Economic Conference in Lahore, Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani warned against both countries being lulled into complacency because of the recent successes in building bridges. “We face many challenges and threats from forces inimical to peace. We are passing through turbulent times in our history in which non-state actors are determined to harm the peace process. Such forces are present on both sides of the border and we have to remain vigilant that they are not able to derail our hard-earned gains.”
This warning was reiterated in the evening by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who also urged both countries to introspect whether the way the two had dealt with each other over the past 64 years had yielded any dividend. Calling it a relationship of lost opportunities, she made out a case for changing course.
According to Mr. Gilani, improved relations with India are important for Pakistan as it offers a billion-plus market to the Pakistani exporters. “We are aware that without enhancing regional trade, the country cannot realise its full potential.” Stating that a liberal trade regime ensures flow of cheaper imports for both countries due to their geographical proximity and resultant lower freight costs, he said just as Pakistani textiles had a huge market across the border, similarly, India could get buyers for its chemicals, pharmaceutical items and engineering goods and cement, among many other commodities.
Without dwelling on the key irritants in bilateral relations, the Prime Minister said Pakistan was keen to settle all core issues through dialogue on an equitable basis. “We want to start a new era of economic collaboration with India as well as enhanced people-to-people contacts so that we leave behind a legacy of peace and prosperity for our future generations.”
Several leading Indian industrialists, including Adi Godrej, Rahul Bajaj and S. K. Munjal, are participating in the conference. To show across the political spectrum support in Pakistan for improved trading relations with India, political opponents of the ruling coalition are also participating in the conference. Though both the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan are currently leading public campaigns for the ouster of Mr. Gilani following his conviction for contempt of court, both are scheduled to address the conference.
In fact, Mr. Sharif went a step further on Sunday and is reported to have suggested that Pakistan take the initiative in relaxing the visa regime that is the bane of common citizens of both countries.