India and Pakistan need to limit their expectations and focus on a few key issues like the urgent need to increase business travel across the border and easing visa restrictions to enable a steady flow of businessmen and tourists, comments Surojit Gupta
Mian Abrar Ahmed, president, Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is clear about the way ahead. "Both countries," he says with conviction, "should separate economic and commercial cooperation from politics. The time has come to put all other issues behind. Pakistan and India can build a relationship which can provide strength to the economies of the two countries."
Many in India, from the government to businessmen, from petty traders in Attari and Wagah to camel herders at the Rajasthan-Pakistan border would agree. Trade, after all, has all through history made friends of the worst enemies.India and Pakistan have made a great start on this. After some tension-packed moments during the recent visit to Pakistan of India's commerce, industry and textiles minister Anand Sharma, the two countries have begun work in earnest on restoring normal trade ties. Pakistan has initiated moves that would ultimately phase out the thorny negative list, which includes items that cannot be traded legally. Indian businessmen, on the other hand, are gung-ho about the future scenario.Sharma is upbeat. "As neighbours we have shared a relationship where a desire for engagement has not been there for decades," he says. "Both the countries have also carried past baggage and it was a journey of missed opportunities. But we have turned a new leaf. That I think is most important, whether you call it an achievement or an initiative."But, the excitement apart, it could be years before things turn out the way they should between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. There are some concerns holding back a blooming that both New Delhi and Islamabad are hoping for. For one, sections of industry in Pakistan fear Indian goods will swamp their market if there are no checks. Domestic political compulsions in Pakistan are another big factor. Hardliners in that country oppose better economic ties with India."Pakistani businessmen are ready," says Chandrajit Banerjee, director-general of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), an industry lobby group. "Both sides are missing on opportunities by staying out of trade. We have been able to allay some fears through the dialogue we established. We have to approach carefully and cautiously to be able to build and make up for a lot of the trust deficit not only among politicians but businessmen."
For starters, India and Pakistan need to limit their expectations and focus on a few key issues - like the urgent need to increase business travel across the border. Easing visa restrictions at the earliest to enable a steady flow of businessmen and tourists will have a long-term impact. The joint working group of the Pakistan interior ministry and the Indian home ministry are working on this, and an announcement is expected soon.Then, the border infrastructure needs a massive revamp to accommodate the quantum leap in trade that one expects from further liberalization of business. The opening of the integrated checkpost and the second point on the Attari-Wagah border, which will greatly aid in this, has been delayed but is likely to be ready by April.
New routes and links - like the Munabao-Khokarapar pass - also need to be explored. Air links are another focus area.One of the most significant steps, though, would be opening bank branches in each other's countries. Central banks of both countries are scheduled to meet in Mumbai in early March on this."Business facilitation needs to be improved. Long-term multiple-entry business visas without police reporting and city restriction is absolutely vital for encouraging business-to-business contact.
Businessmen from both countries need to be able to roam freely on their mobile phones," says Sunil Kant Munjal, chairman, Hero Corporate Services, part of the Indian business delegation to Pakistan that Sharma led.There is immense potential, members of the delegation agree, for ventures in textiles, leather, sugar, cement, stones, minerals as well as agriculture, infrastructure, pharmaceuticals, refinery, energy, oil and gas, iron and steel. They also agree that the Indian delegation's visit to Pakistan, the interaction with the leadership and with leaders of business helped clarify many of the misconceptions.
"They also helped in building bridges of friendship and trust," Sharma says.
Another A for Aman ki Asha.- Times of India
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
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Page 166 of 175
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