KARACHI: Pakistani corporate and business leaders, who participated in the first of its kind Indo-Pak Business Meet held in New Delhi last month, want more such initiatives at the private and government-level for the improvement of ties between the two nuclear-armed estranged neighbours.
Business leaders say that the civil society has been doing its bit for peace, but there remains a need to push the two respective governments of Pakistan and India to make serious efforts to improve ties to ensure progress and prosperity in the region.
"While civil society will continue to take such initiatives, it is the government-level dialogue, which brings a concrete change," Kamran Y. Mirza, chief executive Pakistan Business Council, told The News. "Both sides must move towards creating an atmosphere, which enables cross-border businesses to prosper. The business Meet needs to be followed by other such initiatives."
The two-day Meet, held in May, was organised under the Aman Ki Asha initiative - a joint venture of The Times of India and Jang Group.
Wajid Jawad, managing director of Associated Industries, said that the experience of attending the meeting was better than what he had expected. "Pranab Mukherjee, the Indian Finance Minister, was there. The shift in his attitude and response towards us, Pakistanis, was remarkable," he said. "Just two years back, he was external affairs minister at a time when Indo-Pak relations were at the rock bottom."
Businessmen from the two countries realise that politicians alone can not be relied upon for a positive outcome, he said. "Therefore, we have to continue our efforts. We need to identify areas of mutual interest and then focus on trade."
Referring to the open discussion with Indian counterparts, he said Pakistan was asked to change its India-specific trade rules. "Indians say that they treat Pakistan just like all the other trading partners under the WTO framework. This might be true, but the benefit of any trade should go to both sides and the reality is that right now it tilts in their favor."
Jawad said follow-up meetings among businesspeople from both sides were important to ensure that first of its kind Aman Ki Asha initiative achieves its target.
Iqbal Ali Lakhani, chairman of Lakson Group of Companies, also appeared equally optimistic about the results of the meeting. "This was a small, but a useful step," he said. "It is very early to say when and how the business ties with India prosper, but one thing is for sure that there are a lot of areas for cooperation."
He said that Indian conglomerates were much bigger, but Pakistani companies have been working with leading multinational firms so there was no question of inequality in experience and capability.
Asad Umer, president of Engro Corporation, said business cooperation between the two countries remains necessary for greater regional prosperity. "India needs tons of energy to support its growth momentum," he said. "And that could come via Pakistan."
However, he said, private sectors from both the sides need to sit together and seriously look at ways to harness these opportunities. "West is in trouble itself.
The capital is with the countries in the east."
Information technology is one area where India has outclassed all the other emerging economies. It also happens to be a sector, which has fast developed in Pakistan.
Jehan Ara, president of Pakistan Software Houses Association, said the world remains unaware of the strides made by the Pakistani IT sector during the past couple of years.
"The first leverage for Pakistani companies is low-cost of skilled labor," she said. "There are a lot of software applications being made here like risk management tools for financial institutions. Indians can get them made cheap here!"
Yet, she said, such business ventures will require governments on both sides of the borders to remove bottlenecks."Some years back, Tata Consultancy wanted to start operations in Pakistan, but they couldn't because of restrictions on the transfer of money."
She said prerequisite to the long term goal of cooperation should be visa relaxation and making it easier for businesses to transfer funds to home country.
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