India ready to open more land border crossings
India is willing to look at opening more land border crossings with Pakistan, for instance, at places like Munnabao in Rajasthan, India's high commissioner to Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal said on Monday.
He was addressing the inaugural session of the 2nd Aman Ki AshaIndo-Pak Economic Conference. At present, the Attari-Wagah post is the only land border transit point between the two nations.
Later this month, home secretaries of the two countries are expected to sign on an agreement to liberalise the business visa regime. In the works are multiple entry visas, abolishing police check-posts and multi-city visas.
These measures are expected to give a fillip to Indo-Pak trade, which today is languishing at below $3 billion. The Indian commerce ministry believes that trade between the two countries can touch $12 billion in the next five years, Sabharwal said. He reiterated commerce minister Anand Sharma's promise that "for every one step Pakistan takes, India will take two", to further trade between the neighbours.
Delivering the keynote address, Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani said core issues should be settled through dialogue and called for enhanced people-to-people contact. He said his government was committed to normalisation of relations. "Non-state actors from both sides of the border are determined to harm relations. We need to be vigilant. He said that in sectors like information technology, education, health engineering, there is huge scope for cooperation. He commended The Times of India and Pakistan's Jang Group for launching the Aman Ki Asha initiative when tensions were running high between the two nations.
Speakers at the conference highlighted the fact that improved economic relations between India and Pakistan would lead to peace and prosperity. But a few delegates said they were worried that offering most favoured nation (MFN) status to India might result in highly skewed trade relations with the balance tilting in favour of India. These worries were addressed by Pakistan business leaders like Mian Muhammed Mansha, chairman, MCB Bank, and Bashir Ali Muhammed, chairman, Gul Ahmed Group. They were unequivocal in saying that more trade would only benefit the Pakistani people. Industry would benefit from greater competition in the long run. Mansha said he was keen on starting a bank in India.
Adi Godrej, CII president and head of the Godrej Group, said the two largest economies of South Asia should work together to ensure that bilateral trade touches $10 billion in the near term. Textiles, agriculture, engineering, IT, education and health care are sectors which can see immediate traction, he said. "Removal of tariff barriers should set in motion processes for the removal of asymmetries in trade."
Group managing director of Jang Group Shahrukh Hasan said the Aman Ki Asha initiative had helped change perceptions in both countries. "Peace, which has been tantalizingly elusive, is inevitable," he said.
He and almost all speakers said that a liberalised visa regime was a must for any forward momentum in relations. "MFN and FDI are of no use without people being able to travel across the border," he said.
Rahul Kansal, executive president, Times of India Group, said that history has shown that when foes develop deep economic stakes in each other, war becomes a non-option. "We are at a historic moment; it will be a pity if we can't seize the opportunity."
Aman Ki Asha is an initiative of The Times of India and the Jang Group of Pakistan and is co-sponsored by CII and Pakistan Business Council.