ISLAMABAD: As hopes swell for a lasting period of détente between Pakistan and India, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif signalled his willingness to pick up the process of normalising relations with India from where it was left off when he was ousted from power in 1999.
Chairing the first meeting of Pak-India Joint Business Council (PIJBC) since the country’s landmark democratic transition, the prime minister said his government will pursue the same policies in this regard as the ones he initiated during his previous stint as premier.
“It is reassuring that both sides are sitting together and talking to each other,” the premier told representatives of trade groups from the two countries. At the same time he expressed satisfaction over the visit of Indian business delegates under the auspices of PIJBC.
The prime minister, according to some delegates, also volunteered to personally deal with assignments aimed at restoring his country’s bilateral ties with India.
Earlier, Indian representatives drew the prime minister’s attention towards the trade barriers existing between the two countries , saying these were hindering businessmen from either side of the border.
One of the members pointed out that despite the fact that Pakistan and India had signed three agreements pertaining to customs cooperation and mutual recognition and compensation of complaints, legal formalities to implement them were still pending. Other members drew attention towards hindrances caused by allowing only 140 commodities to be traded through the Wagah-Attari land route.
In response, Premier Nawaz assured Indian representatives that he would do his utmost to remove the hurdles in the way of business development between the two countries.
They quoted him as saying that he would “personally deal with assignments aimed at restoring Pakistan’s bilateral ties with its neighbours”. “I deem it my prime responsibility and that is why I am personally looking after the defence and foreign affairs portfolios.”
Meanwhile, Nawaz drew the Indian delegation’s attention towards Pakistan’s energy need. “We are facing an acute power shortage … any assistance in this sector will us address the issue,” he maintained. The premier told the businessmen that he had already directed Water and Power Minister Khwaja Muhammad Asif to visit India and explore areas of potential cooperation in this regard.
Indian members of PIJBC noted that India, since it faced similar problems as Pakistan, could provide much assistance in the fields of medical science, higher education and vocational training.
The meeting also discussed non-discriminatory market access and agreed that industrialists from both countries should be provided a level-playing field.
PM Nawaz meets new Chinese envoy
On Saturday, Prime Minister Nawaz met newly-appointed Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong and stressed that Pakistan’s relationship with China was centred on mutual cooperation and was not aimed at conspiring against any other country.
Welcoming Weidong’s appointment, he said Pakistan is committed to take its relationship with China to an even higher level and greatly values its economic support and cooperation. He added that he looked forward to his visit to China in the first week of July.
Later, while meeting a visiting delegation of Chinese media persons, Prime Minister Nawaz conveyed his deepest condolences to the families of the trekkers killed in the attack at Nanga Parbat and the Chinese government and people. He vowed to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice very soon and assured that the government will take all possible efforts to ensure such a tragedy will never occur in the future.
Meanwhile, the premier said the envisaged Pak-China Trade Corridor would open vistas of development and prosperity to the around 3 billion people of the region. About handing over Gwadar port to China, he said the project was the ‘hallmark’ the two countries’ strategic partnership.
Talking about his upcoming visit, he said he had established a high-level task force to explore avenues to enhance economic cooperation with China.
“We want to cooperate with each other in several fields, including energy and infrastructure,” he maintained, adding, “I think if all these initiatives materialise, our trade volume will cross hundreds of billions of dollars.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2013.