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India, Pakistan trade will resume. Lot of ice will melt by summer: Zubair Ahmed Malik

Interview with former president, The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry

Nayanima Basu  |  New Delhi 

Zubair Ahmed Malik

Zubair Ahmed Malik, former president, The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry, believes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government will take positive steps to ensure smooth flow of goods between the neighbours. In an interview with Nayanima Basu, he says businessmen on both sides are pushing the governments to normalise bilateral trade. Edited excerpts:

India is now keen to normalise bilateral trading relationship with Pakistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave a massive push to South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) in Kathmandu this time.

Ultimately, they have to do it. I heard him (Modi) there (in Kathmandu). He seems
very positive. But the bureaucracy creates some problem or the other. Your former foreign secretary Sujatha Singh came with very harsh statements. I remember confronting her in one of the meetings... and her approach was indifferent.

But she was certainly not taking decisions alone.

Politicians depend a lot on the bureaucrats. I attach a lot of hope with PM Modi’s government. I am sure, under him, things will move. This region is rich in natural resources and we have to exploit it for the benefit of the common man.

PM Modi did invite Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif for the swearing-in ceremony and both leaders had a successful bilateral meet. Yet, the relationship failed to move in terms of enhancement of trade and investments.

Why do you think that happened? It is because your former foreign secretary made extremely negative statements about Pakistan. It did not help create a congenial atmosphere.

But similar tones are also emanating from your side. Recently, (Pakistan) High Commissioner Abdul Basit indicated that the “most favoured nation” status will not be granted to India unless steps to increase Pakistani imports are undertaken.

Well if you take a hard stand, then what do you expect from Pakistan? If you talk hard, we will do so, too.

What hard stand are you talking about?

I am talking of the tough stand you took when our high commissioner met the Kashmiris prior to the foreign secretary-level talks. I am pleading — please start the stalled dialogue.

Who do you think will take the risk of reviving the stalled bilateral ties?

I think it is a temporary hiccup, which will be overcome. Do not underestimate the power of a businessman.

But both governments have stopped talking. How do you see anything positive emerging?

Let summer come, a lot of ice will melt. They (Modi and Sharif) had a handshake in Nepal. It is we businessmen who finance these politicians, so we insert a certain influence as well. We don’t invest for nothing. We want returns and that is to let the flow of trade to resume.

Are you talking of the composite dialogue?

I am not a political person. I only want to see progress in the bilateral trade of two countries. For me, Kashmir is important from the political side but for businessmen, trade is equally important. Both will now have to take a step back.

You said the visa protocol agreement that was signed in 2013 has not been properly operationalised.

Well, as I said earlier, the old visa regime and the new regime are not much different. Instead of going forward and facilitating visas, we have moved backward. There are still very many restrictions. There are restrictions even on the travel of both (India and Pakistan) high commissioners. For normalising trade, visa has to be liberalised. Let people meet people.

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First Published: Thu, February 05 2015. 00:21 IST