By Shahnawaz Akhter & Saad Hasan
KARACHI: Pervez Said, a Pakistani banker, has always gone along easily with his Indian counterparts. Whenever the South Asians had time, in middle of a seminar or some official meeting in another foreign country, they would sneak out to have lunch and talk.
“It was a natural alliance,” he says, recalling the days when he worked from Citibank. “We might be at odds between ourselves, but Pakistanis and Indians always took a unified stance when some third party confronted any of us.”
These days, Said, 54, is CEO of Dawood Islamic Bank, one of the largest financial institutions in Pakistan that runs on Shariah guidelines. He is visiting India to suggest that the banks will pave the roads for integration of the two neighbouring nations.
He is among the top Pakistani business executives, who have flown to New Delhi to attend the two-day Pakistan-India Business Meet, “Partners for Peace and Progress.” The one of its kind conference of business is a joint initiative of the Jang Group and Times of India.
“You think about Pak-India economic ties and it seems undoable, but there is a first step to everything,” he said. “Just go back a few decades and you’ll find European countries at loggerheads among themselves. Look at the co-existence of their economies now!”
When financial interests of any two foes are commingled, they will think twice before picking up arms, he says. “It is guaranteed that all the other issues will be belittled once this happens.”
This is something, which everyone has heard before. But, Said says this in a way that it would sound sweet to the corporate ear. “There are 250 million Muslims in India and not a single Islamic bank. Pakistan’s Islamic banks are the fastest growing in the world. Let us do business there. Trade and commerce will automatically follow,” he said.
Asad Umar, President Engro Corporation, says he remains “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome of the conference. “But there is a realisation on both the sides that something needs to be done, especially in the area of energy.”
He says that South Asia imports $100 billion of energy every year. “This energy-starved region could gain by integrating itself with the central and western Asian countries. I will be speaking on this subject at the conference.”
Indian companies might be very large and have a lot of capital, but there access to the Pakistani market is limited, he says, explaining that any direct investment will always be viewed critically.
“I propose that there should be joint venture investment. For instance Tata Power and Engro Energy could together set up 500MW plants each in India and Pakistan. This model could work,” he said.
Umar disagrees that Indian companies are too large to be interested in doing business with Pakistani counterparts. “It is true that even a big Pakistani group such as Engro is small compared to Indian conglomerates. But Mitsubishi, which is among the fortune 500 companies, has had a technical collaboration with Engro for years. It was economically feasible for them to work like this.”
He said it needs to be understood that nature of energy infrastructure in Pakistan and India is different. “While India’s power market is huge, the role of private sector companies there is just 10 per cent. The private power producers in Pakistan have a share of 45 per cent,” he said.
Engineer M Iqbal Qureshi, Chief Executive, Abdullah Group, is optimistic about the future. “Both the countries share same values and tradition, which can help bridge gaps and gives ideal conditions for cooperation in various fields.”
There is a need for cooperation between the two countries to fight poverty and hunger by identifying areas of mutual interests, especially the trade, he said.
Specifically speaking of the area where his company works, he said advancement made in construction field in India is what has been achieved in Dubai. “Pakistan has the opportunity to gain from the Indian experience. Similarly, India can absorb skilled people from here.”
Unlike the generally held believe, Omer Yusuf, the Managing Director of Lyra Private Limited, which makes footwear, personal protection clothing and equipment, says there are no hindrances to trade.
“Lyra has not faced any problem doing business with India. There are a lot of items allowed in the tradable list between the two countries. Contrary to all the hype, traders in Pakistan regularly import leather from Kanpur, India,” he said.
Yusuf is visiting India to possibly strike a deal for importing shoes from there. “There is also a big market in India for our range of fire protective clothing,” he said. All these things, in which the company trades are also produced in China, but the quality is often an issue, he said.
Mohammad Rajper, Managing Director, General Shipping Agencies, said political issues should be set aside for mutual economic benefits. “The countries within the EU share 80 per cent of the trade among themselves as against only 20 per cent with other countries.”
There is an opportunity in enhancing trade through Monabao and upgrading Wagah border. “We should come out of negative and positive lists of tradable items. There could be joint ventures in various sectors, which benefit entrepreneurs on both the sides,” he said.