Posts Tagged ‘ SAARC ’

Pakistan Should Open Itself Up to India

By Aakar Patel for Firstpost

India and Pakistan have a reciprocal relationship. If one does something to the other, send back a spying diplomat for instance, the other imitates this and also sends one back. One country’s visa regime mirrors the other’s. We would rather harm ourselves by an act that is imitative than let the other side get away.

The world sees this behaviour as childish, perhaps rightly.

India acted maturely in opening up trade unilaterally a few years ago. This is why the shelves of Thom’s Cafe and Bakery, where I shop for groceries in Bangalore, are filled with Shan Masala boxes.

Now an opportunity exists for Pakistan to take the lead.

Islamabad should open up its borders and give Indian tourists visas on arrival. The same conditions under which Indians are allowed into Sri Lanka and Nepal and Bhutan. A quick stamp on the passport and that’s it.

Vast crowds of Indians will come to Pakistan.

Sikhs on pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib and to see Ranjit Singh’s masoleum (totally empty when I went there 10 years ago) next to Lahore fort.

Hindus who want to see the Indus, after which their country is named, and their faith. Muslims and Hindus who want to visit Pak Pattan, Data Saheb, and the shrines of Rukn-e-Alam and Bahauddin Zakariya.

Pakistanis will be amazed by how many Hindus worship at Muslim shrines. Punjabis will come and see the cities of Lahore and Pindi, of which they have only heard about from their grandparents. India’s wealthy Sindhi community will come to Sukkur, Hyderabad and Karachi.

Three Muslim communities – Memons, Bohras and Khojas – have their headquarters in India. They have family ties to Karachi and also business interests that will benefit from regular visits.

Deoband and Nadwa scholars can exchange views with Pakistan’s ulema.

The package tour business, which is big in India, will bring in large numbers who might see a Pakistan different from the one in their imagination. College and school excursions, which are also big in India, will find new venues to take their students to.

Bollywood will be interested in new settings to shoot, and access to the cities will open up plot-lines.

As an intelligent piece in The Friday Times a few years ago noted, Indian tourists will blend in, dress modestly, not expect too much, be at home with the food and do shopping on a healthy scale.

The exchange rate of the Pakistani Rupee, whose value is a little over half that of the Indian Rupee, will give them a bigger budget than they have at home.

The Hindu middle class, especially Bengali and Gujarati, are adventurous travellers and will not be easily put off by a couple of bomb blasts as westerners will. Because Indian women are not secluded, whole families will come, especially if non-airplane routes such as road and rail are opened. Pakistanis will not be threatened by middle aged Indian men and women with squealing kids about them.

It will not be possible, given the mischief in Mumbai and in Parliament, for India to freely let Pakistanis enter. So reciprocality must not be expected immediately. But that shouldn’t be seen as a problem.

Pakistan has already accepted a break in the tit-for-tat relationship. Pakistan’s cricket team is likely to play in India while there’s no chance that India’s players will come to Pakistan. No other cricketing nation is willing either and so it’s not about Indian obstinacy in this case. Just the circumstances, which can be altered by a little wisdom.

It’s a profitable opportunity for Pakistan to benefit economically, improve its image as a safe place and normalise relations with India. Three things gained while nothing is lost.

Pakistan should open itself up to Indians without waiting for reciprocity. And it should do this in self interest.

Advertisements

India, Pakistan PMs Vow to Start ‘New Chapter’

As Reported by The Economic Times

The prime ministers of India and Pakistan said Thursday they expected to open a “new chapter” at future talks between the rival nations after they met at a regional summit in the Maldives.

India’s Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani said their often strained ties were improving, but they declined to give a date for their next meeting.

“The time has come to write a new chapter in the history of our countries,” Singh told reporters. “The next round of talks should be far more productive and far more practical-orientated in bringing the two countries closer.”

Gilani said that “all issues” had been discussed during their one-hour meeting including the contentious subject of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region divided between the two nuclear rivals and claimed in its entirety by both.

“I am ready to discuss each and every issue,” Gilani said. “I think that the next round of the talks would be more constructive, more positive, and will open a new chapter in the history of both the countries.”

The leaders did not give further details of their discussions on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) gathering in the Maldives.

However Singh added that the two sides should push to make real progress as they had “wasted lot of time in the past in acrimonious debates”.

The two men emphasised their warm friendship and shook hands twice to oblige photographers at the start of closed-door talks at the luxury Shangri-La Villingili island resort.

After the meeting, the two men headed for the opening of the SAARC summit, where their host, Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, hailed their dialogue.

“These developments are extremely welcome,” he said. “I hope this summit will be enthused with optimism.”

The two prime ministers last met in March when Gilani accepted Singh’s invitation to watch the India-Pakistan cricket World Cup semi-final. Their previous talks were at the April 2010 SAARC summit in Bhutan.

Both countries, who have fought three wars since independence in 1947, struck an upbeat note ahead of the Maldives summit, with officials describing the cross-border atmosphere as “considerably improved”.

However the vexed subject of Kashmir and the threat of Pakistan-based extremism remain major obstacles to their ongoing peace process.

A full peace dialogue — suspended by India after the 2008 Mumbai attacks blamed on Pakistan-based militants — was resumed in February this year.

The process remains tentative with only incremental progress on issues such as trade.

Last week, Pakistan’s cabinet announced it had approved a proposal giving India the status of “most favoured nation” but there has been confusion about when it will be implemented.

Efforts to reduce tensions have been complicated by concern over Afghanistan’s prospects as international troops begin departing after ten years of fighting the Taliban.

Indian involvement in Afghanistan is sensitive, with Pakistan vehemently opposed to its arch foe meddling in what it considers its backyard.

Islamabad’s suspicions were fuelled when Afghanistan and India signed a strategic partnership pact last month.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is also attending the SAARC summit, along with the leaders of other member nations Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Trust Deficit with Pakistan Shrinking: Singh

As Reported by The Express-Tribune via AFP

 

 

The leaders of India and Pakistan will meet on the sidelines of a regional summit this week, as the nuclear-armed rivals seek to push a tentative rapprochement in their fractious relationship.

Talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani will take place at the summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations that opens Thursday in the Maldives.

India’s foreign minister said Wednesday that a “trust deficit” with Pakistan was shrinking as he headed for a regional summit, in a clear sign of warming relations between the neighbours.

“The trust deficit with Pakistan is shrinking,” S.M. Krishna said on board his flight to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in the Maldives, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

He also said that it was necessary for Pakistan and India to develop a joint strategy to fight terror in the region, the agency reported.

Their meeting follows what Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai described as “positive indicators” from Pakistan in recent weeks that it is serious about reducing tensions.

An Indian military helicopter which strayed into Pakistani territory last month was promptly released along with its crew and returned to India, avoiding what in the past could easily have escalated into a diplomatic row.

And last week the Pakistani cabinet approved a proposal to grant India the status of “most favoured nation” in a move towards normalising trade relations.

“These are I would say indications of forward movement,” Mathai said, adding that “all aspects” of the India-Pakistan relationship would be discussed during the Singh-Gilani talks.

The two prime ministers last met in March when Gilani accepted Singh’s invitation to watch the India-Pakistan cricket World Cup semi-final. They last held formal talks at the 2010 SAARC summit in Bhutan.

Talks between the neighbours’ foreign ministers in July failed to produce a major breakthrough, but both sides signalled a warming of ties, with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani speaking of a “new era of cooperation.”

But efforts to reduce tensions have been complicated by the increasing influence of Afghanistan in the bilateral equation.

Indian involvement in Afghanistan is sensitive, with Pakistan vehemently opposed to its arch foe meddling in what it considers its backyard. Islamabad’s suspicions were fuelled when Afghanistan and India signed a strategic partnership pact last month.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will also attend the SAARC summit, along with the leaders of other member nations Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Previous summits of the regional body have been largely overshadowed by the India-Pakistan dynamic — a fact that Mathai acknowledged with regret.

“We would like the focus to remain essentially on the common business of SAARC … and hope that the focus will not be diverted to one single event,” he said. The summit is being held in Addu, on the southern Maldives’ island of Gan.

India and Pakistan Are United by Language and History, Divided by Commerce

By Karin Brulliard for The Washington Post

In India, where it is made, Fair and Handsome men’s skin lightening cream sells for $1.25 a tube.

But by the time it hits the shelf at Sajid Khan’s shop in this city’s old marketplace, it has traversed 2,000 miles of sea and land, been smuggled over the Hindu Kush and marked up 25 percent.

Pakistan and India share language, culture, history and an 1,800-mile border; they are South Asia’s largest economies. What they barely share is trade – officially at least, because of a quasi-blockade that dates from partition in 1947, and all but chokes off commerce under a dizzying web of rules.

The hurdles have spurred off-the-books trade, much of it shipped through third parties in such places as Dubai, where products are re-labeled as imports from other lands – journeys that result in 40-to-70-percent markups. Only recently did Pakistan make its first export to India by truck: a load of gypsum rock.

But economists, business groups and U.S. officials are pushing to loosen at least the most maddening restrictions, and they are hopeful that the two nations’ decision two weeks ago to resume peace talks might help. Free trade, they say, would benefit both India and Pakistan and might help to ease tensions whose gravity is reflected in rival nuclear arsenals.

“Economics 101 dictates that countries’ major trading partners should be their neighbors,” said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “To change the dialogue from a zero-sum game to a positive, win-win outcome for both India and Pakistan, you need to start with the low-hanging fruit of opening trade and tourism.”

For a Pakistani economy in tatters, experts say, a freer flow of goods from India would allow cheaper access to products and raw materials, and could open up India, with its enormous population, to exports of Pakistan products such as cement.

Some research indicates that bilateral trade – currently at about $2 billion a year, less than 1 percent of each country’s total trade – could swell 20 to 50 times under more liberal policies. Estimates of illicit trade range from $2 billion to $10 billion a year.

But for now, progress creeps. India admits all Pakistani products, but Pakistani firms complain that stringent standards and paperwork make many exports unviable. Pakistan, for its part, allows a slowly expanding list of Indian products that now includes artificial kidneys, camphor, parachutes and 1,931 other items – but not Fair and Handsome cream, which is instead legally exported from Kolkata to landlocked Afghanistan, via the Pakistani port of Karachi, then smuggled back into Pakistan.

Travel restrictions are another barrier. Businessmen in both countries say they wait months for visas that allow travel only within major cities in the other country – preventing visits to rural factories or farms – where they are often tailed by intelligence agents.

Then there is the logistic muddle of land trade at the one border crossing, midway between Lahore and the Indian city of Amritsar. The twice daily cargo train involves an engine switch: A train carrying Pakistani exports, for example, can enter mere miles into India, at which point the Pakistani engine and conductors are replaced by an Indian ones before continuing inland. With so few trains, exporters wait months for cargo space.

Trucks have only eight hours each day to cross, because each afternoon the two-lane road is overtaken by Indian and Pakistani border guards’ theatrical gate-closing ceremony. Even then, trucks must stop just past the frontier, where porters transfer the goods to local trucks. That is an advancement: Before 2007, trucks were barred from crossing at all, and laborers lugged all cargo across the boundary on their heads.

The little existing trade often falls victim to what look like political whims. In December, cargo trains sat idle for three weeks while Indian conductors awaited the visas that allow them to park just inside Pakistan.

That same month, spiraling onion prices prompted India to drop import tariffs and standards for the staple, triggering a surge in Pakistani onion exports. But Pakistan abruptly halted overland sales amid concerns about a domestic shortage.

“I had 400 trucks stuck on the other side,” said Rajdeep Uppal, a trader who is vice president of the Amritsar Exporters Council. “For a week these onions were standing there, and eventually they had to be sold within Pakistan for half the price. Who loses? Both the countries.”

Tensions aside, scenes of goodwill abound along the border. Pakistani and Indian train conductors sip tea and gripe about red tape together. Satanam Singh, a turbaned Indian driver – wearing a regulation yellow vest stamped “Indian Driver” – beamed as laborers unloaded his ginger on the Pakistani side. Coming to Pakistan, he gushed, was delightful compared with Mumbai, where the language is different and people hostile.

“It is a strange feeling, like I am going to a strange land,” said a smiling Mohammed Zafar, a Pakistani whose vibrantly painted truck, brimming with dates, was about to make its virgin voyage across the Indian frontier. “I am very happy.”

Here in Lahore, just 20 miles from the Indian border, Khan’s shop was the pioneer in a winding lane of stores now crammed with Indian silk and cosmetics – all smuggled into Pakistan illegally.

He said he would welcome friendlier business relations, even if they lessened the luxury value of his stock. Even his Afghan smuggler, who stopped by on a recent evening, agreed, on grounds that it would lessen the need to bribe border officials.

Among some merchants, skepticism about trade prospects remains, with Pakistanis fearing that open trade would lead to a glut of cheap Indian imports. S.M. Akhter, a top Indian customs official at the border, said national security concerns must trump market demands.

But despite the tangle of rules, some trade is quietly rising. Tahir Habib Cheema, the top Pakistani customs official at the border, said he realized last year that truck exports from Pakistan were allowed, but that “status quo” and “fear” had prevented them. He decided to change that – without notifying his bosses.

A comedy of errors ensued. By Oct. 7, Cheema had found one willing exporter and one importer. After hiccups on each side, a meeting at the frontline was arranged.

All parties agreed, Cheema said – and then the truck would not start. Someone proposed pushing it into India, an idea that was nixed by border guards who said the pushers would need visas. Finally, another vehicle nudged the truck over the line.

“This was something for the national cause,” Cheema said proudly. Since then, he added, Pakistani trucks have exported $2.5 million worth of products to India. He expects that to escalate this spring, when the two nations open a dedicated truck passage.

Correspondent Rama Lakshmi contributed to this article from New Delhi.

 

Top Diplomats From India, Pakistan Meet on Sidelines of Regional Conference

By Anjana Pasricha for The Voice of America

Officials from India and Pakistan have met to discuss the possible resumption of a stalled peace process. The meeting was held Sunday on the sidelines of a regional conference in Bhutan. The discussions are another step in building trust between the two rival nations.

Indian and Pakistani diplomats made no specific announcements, but sounded positive after their late Sunday discussions in the Bhutanese capital, Thimpu.

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao expressed optimism on Monday. But she also said government leaders would remain realistic, pointing out that the relationship between the two countries is “complex.”   

“We talked about the process to chart the way forward, what the best modalities would be,” Rao said.

The meeting in Bhutan was held on the sidelines of a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation conference. It was the first time in six months that officials representing the two countries met to discuss the possibility of resuming peace talks. India suspended peace talks more than two years ago after terror attacks in Mumbai killed more than 160 people. The attacks were blamed on Pakistan-based Islamic militants.

There had been some expectation that the two countries would set a date for resuming full-fledged peace talks, but that did not happen.

Commenting on the meeting, Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said in New Delhi that the two countries are trying to re-build trust, and build bridges of confidence.

“The very fact that the two foreign secretaries have met, it is certainly an indication of the fact that solid foundations are being laid for getting the two countries on to a sustained engagement,” Krishna said.  

India is under pressure to return to the negotiating table and resolve its many differences with Pakistan.

But New Delhi accuses Islamabad of not doing enough to bring the Pakistan-based perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to justice. It says relations between the two countries cannot improve unless Pakistan cracks down on the Islamic militant group, Laskhar-e-Taiba.

Pakistan says it has put on trial seven of the suspected Mumbai attackers. Meanwhile, Islamabad says it wants New Delhi to take action against those responsible for the 2007 bombing of a train that runs between the two countries.

India, Pak Almost Agreed on K-deal: Musharraf

 As Reported by The Press Trust of India

Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf on Friday said India and Pakistan were “moving forward towards drafting an agreement” on Kashmir during his tenure and that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was genuinely committed to peace in the region. “I was certainly trying for it (peace).

And we were reaching success. I have always praised Prime Minister (of India) for his sincerity to reach peace,” said Musharraf, in an interview with NPR. Manmohan Singh and we almost reached peace on all the three issues…the third one, Kashmir, we had made some certain parameters and we were moving forward towards drafting an agreement,” he added. “Unfortunately, that was not to be, but I tried my best.”

Noting that peace is the only way forward, Musharraf noted that the deadlock on Kashmir was rendering the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) useless.

“And I think the way forward is peace for the sake of world, which thinks that this is a nuclear flash point; for the sake of SAARC, which is impotent because of the conflict because of India and Pakistan,” said the former president.

“And for the sake of bilateral Pakistan-India advantages socio-economic advantages which will flow from peace between the two countries,” he noted.

Musharraf is in the US to drum up support for his comeback, which he announced earlier this year by launching a new political party — the All Pakistan Muslim League that would contest elections in 2013. Earlier this week, he accused India of trying to create an “anti-Pakistan Afghanistan.” “If I’m allowed to be very, very frank, India’s role in Afghanistan is to create an anti-Pakistan Afghanistan, said Musharraf, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday.

Today, he characterised the narrative of the Indo-Pak dispute as “impartial”. “So, unfortunate reality, why I have to be so emotional about it, is every time it is Pakistan who is a rogue,” he said.

“Indian bomb is not a Hindu bomb. Pakistan bomb is a Islamic bomb. I think we are being very impartial, we are being very unfair to Pakistan…”

Krishna Arrives in Pakistan, Calls Visit ‘a New Beginning’

By Omer Farooq Khan for The Times of India

Indian external affairs minister S M Krishna, who arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday, said that he is on a mission to restore trust and increase confidence between the two countries.

“We hope to discuss all issues of mutual interest and concern that can contribute to restoring trust and building confidence in our bilateral relationship,” Krishna told journalists as he arrived here.

During his three-day visit, Krishna will hold talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Thursday and will also meet President Asif Ali Zardari and PM Yusuf Raza Gillani. S M Krishna looks forward seeking progress on the issue of terrorism being raised by the Indian home minister P Chidambaram with his Pakistani counterpart Rehman Malik last month in Islamabad.

“I also look forward to receiving feedback on the issues raised by our home minister (P Chidambaram) during his visit to Pakistan last month on our core concern of terrorism, particularly in the light of the discussions our home minister had in Pakistan in the context of interrogation of David Headley regarding the Mumbai terrorist attack,” he said.

Krishna described his visit as important as it marks a new beginning of journey to build a prosperous, friendly and cooperative relationship between the two countries.

India is committed to resolving all issues with Pakistan through peaceful dialogue based on mutual trust and confidence, Krishna said.

“I brought a message of peace and friendship from the people of India and we hope to undertake this voyage of peace, however long and arduous, jointly with the government and people of Pakistan,” he said.
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said that he will raise with Krishna the issue of alleged human rights in Jammu and Kashmir.

“We are approaching the meeting with a positive mindset,” Qureshi said.

The Krishna-Qureshi talks on Thursday will be the third major contact between the two countries in within a month.

Home minister Chidambaram conveyed India’s concerns and expectations on terrorism to Pakistani leadership last month when he visited Islamabad.

The Indian and Pakistani prime ministers met in April on the sidelines of a regional summit in Bhutan, which set in motion the process to revive suspended contacts at different levels of government.

%d bloggers like this: