The richest man in Pakistan wants to see energy pipelines across borders, buy software from India instead of paying ‘10 times more’ to European firms and launch his IPL-like cricket team with Indian players.
The 1947-born Mian Muhammad Mansha, who in 2010 became Pakistan's first Forbes billionaire, told HT that for the first time there is political consensus in Islamabad and a ‘shift in the defence establishment’ to normalise trade ties with India.
“We have a special relationship with China. Why can't we have a special relationship with India,” asked Mansha, who chairs Pakistan's largest business conglomerate, the Nishat Group.
“I've raised this matter with our government,” Mansha said. “For the first time in Pakistan every political leader has given a pledge that we have to normalise trade and opening-up with India. There's a shift in our defense establishment that the time is right, and we should nurture our relationship. Our people realise that you need diplomacy on the economic front.”
Asked how the separated neighbours can expand business under the shadow of terrorism, he suggested that trade would 'cushion' a 'soft landing' to hold the frayed bilateral relationship in case of a future 'incident'.
“Terrorism is partly linked to people who have no jobs in Pakistan,” he said.
“Therefore madrasas are coming up. We need to create a better economic environment.” “We should deal with future 'incidents' maturely,” he said, citing the example of the British government in the aftermath of the London bombings compared to the Americans after 9/11.
Mansha is in New Delhi and plans to launch franchises to sell his textiles in every major city, buy technology from India, set up a cement processing plant and open branches of his MCB bank. “We hope that Indian banks come to Pakistan too.”
He cited ‘silly’ business barriers. His Pakistani mobile phone worked in his last tour of 10 African nations but not in neighbouring India.
But in a symbolic first, the pilots of his Gulfstream jet received visas to stay instead of having to return to Lahore or simply stay on board.
‘Sonia behind better trade ties’
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who controversially skipped the recent lunch hosted for Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, is the one being credited for opening up cross-border trade ties. Pakistani tycoon Mian Muhammad Mansha said he gathered that it was Gandhi who urged Union minister Anand Sharma to visit Pakistan. “Gandhi is a great believer in normalisation of Indo-Pak ties,” he said. HTC