Resolution of Kashmir can spur trade ties: Pakistan envoy


New Delhi : Pakistan Thursday once again linked expansion in trade with India to resolution of all outstanding disputes, including Kashmir, and said it was negotiating for exporting wheat to the country.

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“Let’s hope that we are able to resolve our political differences and create a conducive climate for enhanced economic cooperation,” Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Shahid Malik told Indian businesspersons here.

“It’s important that outstanding political issues are resolved,” he replied when asked whether it was business that should be driving politics rather than the other way round.

The interactive discussion was organised by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

But even as the two sides try to bridge trust deficit over these issues, Pakistan was negotiating to export 60,000 tonnes of wheat to India, the envoy said.

Malik also linked the prospect of Pakistan opening up the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) to India with the resolution of political differences over key issues like Kashmir.

“One must put one’s heads together and find impediments which obstruct the SAFTA,” he stressed.

“We are ready to discuss the positive list and non-tariff barriers faced by Pakistani exports to India. This has already been notified to the SAARC secretariat.”

“There is a continuous re-evaluation and reassessment of the positive list,” the envoy said, adding that a joint study group would meet soon to resolve issues relating to SAFTA.

The documented trade between India and Pakistan is over $2 billion, which is half of the total trade between India and Pakistan. Bilateral trade has jumped and is expected to cross $1.5 billion this year.

Underlining that the potential for economic cooperation was “great”, the envoy chose to tie up economic ties with the resolution of the “Kashmir dispute”, which he stressed remained at “the heart of bilateral relationship”.

“The time has come to move from dispute management to dispute resolution,” he said, while stressing that any viable solution of Kashmir should take into account aspirations and wishes of Kashmiris and should be acceptable to India and Pakistan.

The high commissioner exhorted both sides to show “courage, determination and flexibility” to resolve these issues and to bridge trust deficit.

He also admitted that there had been a “sea change” in relations between India and Pakistan over the last decade and signs of bilateral trade picking momentum were encouraging.

“The potential for economic cooperation is great. Bilateral trade has increased to over $1.2 billion registering an increase of 380 percent over the last three years.”

Replying to a question on granting Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India, Malik said such a decision would depend on how the larger political relationship evolves in the future.

But despite Pakistan not reciprocating India’s gesture in granting MFN to it, exports from India to Pakistan are three times higher than the other way round, he said.

The proof of the pudding lies in the eating, Malik remarked while demanding a “level playing field” for Pakistanis wishing to do business with India both in terms of tariff and non-tariff barriers.

Asked whether Pakistan was considering giving India transit rights to Central Asia, he said, “The overall issue has to be seen in the context of our political relationship.”