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India, Pakistan try trade route to improve ties


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Pakistan Commerce Minister, Makhdoom Amin Fahim shakes hand with his Indian counterpart, Anand Sharma at the start of bilateral talks in New Delhi on Friday, April 13, 2012
Pakistan Commerce Minister, Makhdoom Amin Fahim shakes hand with his Indian counterpart, Anand Sharma at the start of bilateral talks in New Delhi.—PPI Photo

ATTARI: In a cavernous warehouse in north India, workers grade and blend mounds of tea for shipping to Dubai, Europe, Singapore _ just about anywhere around the globe, except for the country right next door, Pakistan.

Decades of conflict have decimated trade between the South Asian neighbours. Now, with peace efforts between both the countries stalled, officials are hoping that trade could lead the way to easing tensions.

They have promised to throw open their economies to each other by the end of the year and have already liberalized some commercial ties. A new border depot for trade was inaugurated recently.

India's Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said that investment ''can form the basis for building political trust.''

The three Indo-Pak wars did not dampen Pakistanis' craving for India's green tea nor Indians' longing for Pakistani dates and nuts.

So, Indian traders routed their Pakistan-bound products by ship via Dubai in a 28-day journey that is 40 times as expensive as trucking it over their shared land border.

Rakesh Arora, one of north India's biggest tea suppliers, can't sell to the world's second largest tea-buying market barely 30 kilometres away from his warehouse. Instead, Pakistan buys tea from faraway Kenya.

The two sides hope that they can quadruple trade that reached $2.8 billion last year by setting aside their competing claims to the Kashmir region and other thorny disputes to focus on restoring economic links.

''What India and Pakistan are doing is long overdue,'' says Rajinder Goel, president of the Amritsar Tea Traders Association.

In recent months, Pakistan drastically reduced the number of Indian products barred from the country and said it will eliminate the bans completely by the end of the year. It also said it planned to grant India ''Most Favored Nation'' trade status, which would reduce tariffs. New Delhi gave that status to Pakistan in 1996.

India said this month it would lift the ban on Pakistani investments here, held a Pakistani trade fair in the capital and is talking of exporting electricity and petroleum to the energy-starved country. Both countries' central banks are exploring opening branches across the border.

Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said they were close to an agreement on visas to make it easier for business leaders to cross the border and stop forcing them to report to police.

And India unveiled a new customs depot at the Attari border, which separates India's Punjab region from the Pakistani Punjab.

In the 100 acre hangar-like warehouse the size of two football fields, neatly stacked rows of cardboard cartons filled with dried fruit and nuts stretched to the ceiling awaiting customs checks. An army of blue-uniformed porters waited to load them onto trucks for the vast Indian market.

Nearby, trucks from Pakistan unloaded cement and building supplies bound for India's booming construction industry.

Like other produce traders, Om Prakash Arora Lati had faced immense losses when his fruit and vegetables rotted in the intense summer heat due to delays at the old checkpoint.

''Now we can clear customs formalities in hours instead of days,'' said Lati, president of the Indo-Pak Exporters Association.

Rajdeep Singh Uppal, who has been trading with Pakistan for nearly two decades, said the number of trucks that crossed the border jumped in the very first week of the new customs post.

It has ''smoothed the movement of trucks from this end,'' he said. ''Now we want Pakistan to scale up its facilities.''

Indian merchants also hope to use the land crossing to reach markets in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and across Central Asia.

''The possibilities are endless,'' Uppal said.

The trade optimism has also spurred demands for more crossings along the 2,900 kilometre border, and at least four possible sites have been identified, in the Indian states of Rajasthan and Punjab.

The decision to set aside differences and push ahead with commerce is a formula India has employed before. Despite their own border dispute, trade between India and China has boomed over the last decade.

However, long-time Pakistan watchers remain cautious. Another attack reminiscent of the 2008 siege of the Indian city of Mumbai by Pakistan-based gunmen could push the countries back to the brink, analysts say.

There are also doubts about how far Pakistan's military will let its civilian leadership go in restoring ties.

''Despite the presence of a civilian regime in Pakistan, it is more than apparent to most observers where power remains ensconced,'' Sumit Ganguly, a political science professor at Indiana University, wrote in the Asian Age newspaper.

But Pakistan's army has sent its own signals it wants better relations, with army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani calling for the demilitarization of the disputed Siachen Glacier and for greater emphasis on development and peace.

When Pakistan's commerce minister opened his country's trade fair in Delhi this month, Ghazala Rahman, a Pakistani furniture designer, lamented it was the first time in 35 years her country's top business official had come.

"We share so much — the same language, the same culture, the same history. I see it as 35 wasted years," Rahman said.

Haseeb Bhatti, a surgical instrument maker from the Pakistani city of Sialkot, said the two sides have to learn to trust each other again after decades of conflict. Yet, Bhatti speaks with nostalgia and hope.

"On clear days, when I look at the skies above Sialkot stretching as far as Jammu in India, I wonder, who raised these borders and caused these divides?"

Comments (30) Closed

Anuj Apr 23, 2012 04:52pm
This shall ensure good ties, and we also hope , less hate when we see the benefits that living as good neighbours as against demonising each other. It also needs the ordinary Pakistani to start scorning the extreme view holder in his land who has taken an extreme position wrt India on no trade till some other claim is met etc. Similarly, the govt of India should ensure the benefits of trade and the benefits on inflation by that, however small, are touted to India janata so they know that good neighbourly relations will help improve life all around and reduce the negatrive views of Pakistan as a land that connotes only to negative pictures.
Abdul wassay Apr 27, 2012 04:41am
If India and Pakistan get together, NO power on earth can beat them. Thats why British divided them.
amir lakhmir Apr 25, 2012 08:20am
Pakistan and India are now becoming more aware about International Politics and Conspiracies of major powers of world, who never ever wanted peace in subcontinent. It seems brilliant approach to creating better relations in between.
ramki1967 Apr 24, 2012 09:09am
Moin, am sure there will be some compromise here and there... But that's natural between partners..And in this case we are talking about normalization between people who lived as brothers and sisters, not long ago...
ProudIndian Apr 23, 2012 02:27pm
Hmmm...strange bed fellows. Don't know how far this romance will go on?
Girish Apr 25, 2012 05:45am
If true friendship exists, it is between India and Pakistani public. Inspite of all the artificially created hatred, people still feel for each other. All other countries, are with us [India & Pakistan] only for their selfish ends.
parvez mumbai Apr 24, 2012 02:24pm
wow everyones talking in same language from both sides .....keep it up
kehkashan zaidi Apr 25, 2012 05:52pm
a good start indeed !!!__provided on bilarateral relations .it is high time both nations should look forward to their national interest instead of keeping the traditioal hostility amongst themselves.the relations would improve as well as the trade would create employment opportunities on both sides thus would have a positive impact on country's economy.
Praveen Mathur Apr 23, 2012 12:51pm
Excellent end to a beautiful article. These borders were first created by British. Now they are manned by China. Any colonial superpower of the day, will not like India and Pakistan to live in peace. All the Pakistani and Indian prime ministers have tried to have excellent relations, but outside powers do not allow that. But now Pakistan is in dire straits, it makes sense to do what should have been done 60 years ago.
Abhi Gupta Apr 23, 2012 01:11pm
Brothers and sisters of India and Pakistan, the history of the world is replete with examples of former enemies becoming the best of friends. Russia, America; Turkey, Australia; Japan and Germany and the West, France and England....I pray that not just trade but music, literature, drama and theatre, cuisines and cultural exchange, education and technology, medicine and tourism, in fact all that can make the lives of the poorest and suffering human beings of both countries worth living may grow and prosper. We have suffered enough of hatred and war! Please, please give peace and love a chance!
atis Apr 23, 2012 01:25pm
There can not be a single reason why we two neighbours should not trade.Kashmir can be put to backburner,and with ease of travel aross borders with minimal documentation,many problems can be managed without pain.Time will heal our relations
tikki Apr 23, 2012 01:39pm
It amazes me that as always money is the cause of the turning point rather than PEOPLE.Both the governments need to do a better job of turning this whole thing into a people thing instead of money.I agree Pakistan needs to do a better job of resolving the concerned issues but India also needs to meet them half way.Need 100% effort from both sides,otherwise,another decade will go by while both sides whine over petty differences.Like a man once said,if we takecare of small issues,bigger issues will be taken care off eventually.
Naseer Qureshi Apr 23, 2012 01:47pm
Very good new, thank you dawn news.
Canadian Apr 24, 2012 08:20pm
Pakistan cannot get along with itself, how can it get along with anyone else?
Raja Apr 23, 2012 03:10pm
All these Confidence building measures are like applying make up to an old person's face. The wounds run deep.
Moin Apr 23, 2012 03:13pm
I agree as long as it is equal, balanced and fair trade.
R K HASTIR Apr 23, 2012 04:09pm
I request both countries --Grab oppertunity with both hand so that a common man could sleep PEACEFULLY----RKH (India)
Nighat Apr 24, 2012 08:14pm
Inshahallah… It was a nation in which many forms of art and culture thrived and were inspired by the multi ethnic traditions and customs of its people. We certainly have far more in common than with Arabs across the sea.
Canadian Apr 24, 2012 08:18pm
its sad but Pakistan cannot be trusted...
Shiv T Apr 23, 2012 04:56pm
It brought tears in my eyes to read"On clear days,when I look at the skies stretching as far as Jammu in India,I wonder,who raised these borders and caused these divides". I am from Jammu and miss my beloved Sialkot.
Chaman Apr 23, 2012 04:56pm
This is all good for both the countries. Stay the course and both the Countries will benefit. Excellent article and the correctly chosen path forward. I sincerely that people in both the countries will support the move.
Rakesh Apr 23, 2012 05:23pm
Hats off to Dawn for promoting such sensible articles in an environment so full of hate. Inshallah, with will of the people on both sides of the border, any obstacle can be overcome.
Sri1 Apr 23, 2012 05:38pm
Is trade with China equal, balanced and fair? There will be pros and cons, the mature relationships will survive.
Haidery Apr 23, 2012 06:22pm
We have a cricket team in USA. My team has Pakistani and Indian players. We have Muslims, Hindus, Christians. We are neighbours. We all hang out together, eat at the same table and play for a common goal. We call each other brothers and friends. That same principle should have been applied back in 1947. But it's never too late!
Sapan Kapoor Apr 23, 2012 07:08pm
God bless Indo-Pak friendship :-)
shirish Apr 23, 2012 08:33pm
trade is the soothing balm both counties can use to heal wounded souls.
Rahul Apr 24, 2012 01:50am
Trade is the only way to build confidence between the two countries that should have not have separated in the first place.
Rehan Apr 24, 2012 05:53pm
“On clear days, when I look at the skies above Sialkot stretching as far as Jammu in India, I wonder, who raised these borders and caused these divides?” Yeah, everyone hates those divides.
Rao Apr 24, 2012 05:26am
Good to see that there are positive vibes & happenings in Indo-Pak relations....Hope this continues and Dawn should ensure that every positive news in this evolving relationship is duly covered and reported to push the tempo in this relationship. I would like to see a Pakistan where there are no sectarian killings and people from all regions are treated with an even hand....
NOUMAN Jun 26, 2012 07:53am
lets stop hatred b/w 2 countries and do something beneficial starting with trade.