Shilpa Raina analyses the Indo-Pak ties in the backdrop of strained diplomatic level relations
India may have called off the Aug 25 foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan, but this hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of trade associations and businessmen who are bridging the dented relationship through exhibitions and cultural exchanges to promote bilateral trade between the two nations whose political leadership remains at odds.
The ground situation reflects a contradictory and complicated picture of India-Pakistan ties. On the one hand, there is recurrent violation of the ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir while on the other, fashion shows, concerts, art fairs and trade exhibitions are facilitating people-to-people relations and opening up “cultural windows”.
Building on these efforts to normalise business and economic relations is the second-edition of “Alishan Pakistan”, a four-day lifestyle exhibition that will begin Sep 11 in Pragati Maidan in Delhi.
The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), in collaboration with the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) is hosting the show, at which around 300 Pakistani entities will exhibit products ranging from garments to textiles, to accessories, among others.
“Consumers will get the most benefit from this exhibition because it will introduce them to the popular and indigenous products from different regions of Pakistan,” Sher Afgan Khan, TDAP director general (Lahore), told IANS over the phone from the city.
This exchange is a part of “mutual understanding” shared between the two neighbourly states, whose foundation was laid when a 100-member FICCI delegation visited Lahore in February in an “India Show”.
“There is massive trade potential between the two nations but the growth rate of trade exchanges is extremely low. In such situations, we have to come forward in our own way to ensure we make some positive beginnings,” Khan added.
A 2013 report, “India-Pakistan Bilateral Trade: Past, Present and Future” by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry, reinforces Khan’s statement that the trade between the two nations isn’t even an inch close to its potential.
According to the report, the share of trade with Pakistan in India’s total trade declined to 0.34 percent during 2010-12 from 0.48 percent in 2007-09.
The report also mentioned that India’s foreign trade expanded from $312,149.28 million in 2006-07 to $793,804.80 million during 2011-12 with a CAGR(Compound Annual Growth Rate) of around 17 percent.
However, India’s trade with Pakistan expanded from $1,673.71 million in 2006-07 to $1,956.57 million in 2011-12 with a CAGR of only around three percent. The unofficial trade via third countries, mainly in the Gulf, is estimated at $10 billion – a pointer to the potential.
Even though the trade relationship between the two countries is more than five decades old, their chequered history and their fragile diplomatic ties have led to these abysmal trade figures.
Trade experts feel that “Pakistan should grant Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India to strengthen trade ties”.
While India granted this status to Pakistan in 1996, complexities of visa procedures, absence of a legitimate trade mechanism, the yawning gap in the formal and informal trade and lack of cost-effective transportation arrangements have derailed the process from the Pakistani side.
“There is still not much legitimate trade going on between the two countries. There are no mechanisms and if one wants to look at long-term trade benefits, this can happen only when there is legitimacy,” said an Indian businessman who didn’t wish to be quoted.
“Isn’t it contradictory that there is border shelling at one level and on the other, we are hosting shows and exhibitions?” he asked.
Though he agreed such exchanges are a good “PR exercise”, business exchanges are “sporadic” and not beneficial as they should be. But Zain Bashir, one of Pakistan’s biggest textile manufacturers, who is also participating in the upcoming exhibition, has a different thought process.
The Karachi-based businessman believes the two nations should make “persistent efforts to facilitate trade”.
“Peace is attainable between the two nations. But the governments should not give in to outside factors that always derail the peace process. Problems will always escalate when the two nations talk peace,” Bashir, told IANS on the phone from Karachi.
“We need to show hope and trade is not the only way to do so. We should promote religion tourism to allow people from both sides to visits places that are of religious importance. There should be cultural exchanges to keep the hope going,” he added.