NEW DEHLI/ LAHORE:
With an aim to improve trade ties and bilateral relations, a delegation of Pakistani parliamentarians and businessmen crossed over into India through the Wagah border on Wednesday.
The 18-member delegation, led by Leader of the House in the Senate Jahangir Badar and Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Haji Adeel, vowed to improve and strengthen bilateral relations.
The visit is part of the fourth round of India-Pakistan parliamentarians’ dialogue, and the delegates are scheduled to hold meetings with Indian parliamentarians in Delhi, Patna and Bihar.
They will also visit Patna to meet Muslim religious leadership and discuss various issues related to both nations.
“The delegation has arrived in India with a lot of hope,” said Senator Badar, according to reports in the Indian media.
The objective of the visit is purely to improve bilateral relations through diplomacy, Badar said while talking to the media. The Pakistan Peoples Party-led coalition government has removed the deadlock in bilateral relations and created an atmosphere conducive to dialogue, he said.
Badar said the delegation comprises representatives of all four provinces, and added that Pakistan is willing to talk not just about trade but all other issues including health, education and political issues.
“Our wish is to form a trade bloc in South Asia like in the Euro zone,” he said, adding that Pakistan wants a working relationship with its neighbour so that both nations can grow economically and work towards fighting terrorism.
Across Wagah, the visit, however, was overshadowed by recent news of alleged migration of Hindus from Pakistan to India to escape persecution. The Pakistani delegation was quick to point out the situation is not as dire.
“Hindus are not being ill-treated by the majority in Pakistan. I think migration has picked up because of Talibanisation. Even Muslims in our country are fed up with the Taliban,” Sabir Ali, deputy chairman of the Senate, was quoted by The Hindustan Times as saying.
Denying allegations of forced conversion and kidnapping, Ali said: “Issues related to minorities have already been raised in parliament. President Asif Ali Zardari has formed a committee to look into the allegations.”
The Hindus who visited India recently, not a single one sought asylum. Indian Home Secretary RK Singh said long-term visas for Hindus from Pakistan could be considered, but added that the government of India had not received any requests for asylum.
Senator Adeel said both nations should liberalise their visa policies to promote cross-border exchanges of people.
Although both countries have fought several wars and it takes time to establish peace but such visits would improve relations, Adeel said.
Taliban outfits are not only targeting Hindus in Sindh, but also the Muslim community, Adeel said, adding that he, on behalf of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) chief minister, would invite the chief minister of Bihar to visit K-P.
Khurram Dastgir Khan said the delegation would also talk about the Kashmir issue.
He also said he would invite Bihar chief minister to visit Punjab on behalf of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.
Vice President of SAARC Chamber Iftikhar Ali Malik said the delegation is visiting India at the invitation of Saarc Chambers of Commerce and Industry President Vikramjit Singh Sawhney.
No policy can be successful if stakeholders are not taken into confidence and if trade barriers are not streamlined among Saarc countries, Malik said, adding that efforts will be made to remove the fears and apprehensions of Indian traders.
Besides Jahangir and Adeel, Deputy Chairman Senate Sabir Baloch, Khurram Dastagir, Nadeem Afzal Chan, Faisal Karim Kundi, and Nafeesa Shah accompanied the delegation. Mushahid Hussain Sayed and Shazia Marri were unable to join the delegation which is expected to return to Lahore on August 26.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2012.