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Trade and peace

This week,Anand Sharma,India’s commerce minister,visited Pakistan with a delegation of 120 Indian businessmen — the first Indian commerce minister to do so

Written by Ruchika Talwar |
February 18, 2012 12:00:53 am

Trade and peace

This week,Anand Sharma,India’s commerce minister,visited Pakistan with a delegation of 120 Indian businessmen — the first Indian commerce minister to do so. Last year,Makhdoom Amin Fahim became the first commerce minister of Pakistan to visit India in 35 years. A furore was created in Pakistan last year when granting India Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status was being contemplated. There was much sound and fury,primarily in the electronic media and on the streets,which incorrectly termed it “Most Favourite Nation,” provoking Pakistan’s jingoistic fringe.

This time,some progress appears to have been made. India agreed to dismantle all Pakistan-specific non-tariff barriers. Pakistan will now draw up a new,smaller,negative list of non-tradable items and will do away with the positive list that permits trade in under 2,000 items. Most striking of all announcements in the Karachi meeting was Pakistan’s approval for the much-awaited MFN status for India,with the rider that it will be implemented once India actually dismantles the non-tariff barriers restricting imports from Pakistan. The Dawn editorial on February 15 was upbeat: “That 120 top Indian businessmen are accompanying Sharma for meetings with their Pakistani counterparts shows a common resolve to overcome obstacles,despite the fuss being created by a small minority that is against a thaw in India-Pakistan ties. In fact,the progress so far would not have been possible had the majority of businessmen on both sides not supported the process. The talks also indicate the growing strength of those who want peace between India and Pakistan for an economically prosperous and thriving South Asia. There is increasing realisation in Pakistan,as there is in India,that the region cannot make full use of its economic potential unless peace is given a chance. And what could be a better of resolving political and territorial disputes than normalising bilateral trade?”

Along with such news and views encouraging confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan,there was also some scepticism. The anti-India voices,led by Hafiz Saeed,staged a rally in Karachi called Difa-e-Pakistan (“defence of Pakistan”). Pakistan Today reported on February 17 that while there a trade promotion exhibition underway in Lahore,“not far in Karachi,anti-India groups gathered under the chairmanship of Maulana Samiul Haq,to plan an anti-India rally… Prominent among them is Hafiz Saeed of the Jamaatud Dawa and Laskhar-e-Toiba,the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai 26/11 attacks… In an earlier rally,Samiul Haq had said,“We will not let this government negotiate with India and the US who are the greatest enemies of Pakistan.”

This Difa-e-Pakistan rally evoked concern from the US,reported The Express Tribune on February 17: “Lashkar-e-Toiba and its front group Jamaat-ud-Dawa,is internationally sanctioned because of its associations with al Qaeda. We have and continue to urge the government of Pakistan to uphold its obligations in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1267/1989… The UN resolution calls for all countries to freeze assets of sanctioned groups,prevent the transfer of arms to them,and prevent sanctioned individuals from entering or transiting their territories.”

Distant poll

A pathbreaking electoral reform in Pakistan could materialise soon. Pakistan’s election commission has decided to allow 3.7 million overseas Pakistanis possessing national identity cards to vote in the next general elections due in 2013. Daily Times reported on February 15 that the election commission is considering setting up polling stations in Pakistani missions in countries with a significant population of expatriate Pakistanis. Postal ballots will also be allowed. However,those with dual nationality will have to do away with their foreign citizenship in order to vote in Pakistan’s elections.

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