Pakistan and India appear to be going about the task of building relations stone by stone and brick by brick. This is a sensible way to ease tensions which have kept the two countries apart for so many years. Things, of course, worsened after the Mumbai attacks of 2008. The fact that things are on track again and are proceeding stage by stage shows the level-headed approach employed by the two neighbours. Trade is a key area where cooperation could benefit both nations immensely.
For this reason, the series of agreements reached in Islamabad during talks with the Indian Commerce Secretary, SR Rao, are encouraging. Pakistan has agreed to consider opening up the Wagah-Attari border for trade, while the possibility of using other land routes — some of them closed for decades — was also discussed. There was also an agreement that under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement, the number of items on the sensitive list would be reduced by both nations to around 100 by 2017. Discussion was also held on issues concerning licensing, certification, lab testing and quality control.
There was progress in other areas as well. India offered the opportunity for banks in both countries to open branches across the border. This step, of course, would facilitate trade and make it easier for businessmen on either side to deal with practical matters. Another extremely important suggestion also came from India offering Pakistan 500 megawatts of electricity, provided that the required infrastructure would be set up. This is something Pakistan should not miss out on given its current situation vis-a-vis the energy crisis. Gas transmission across the border, another step which could help both countries meet energy requirements, was also discussed, including the joint development of solar and wind energy.
The steps laid out are something that the neighbours need to work towards as they offer huge potential. Indeed, it is a tragedy that people of both countries have been deliberately denied these benefits for so long as a result of the political factors, which had kept Islamabad and New Delhi apart. It now appears that bridges are being built. We must hope they will be completed soon.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2012.