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India Inc in Manmohan's vision of peace with Pak

The PM urges business leaders on both sides of the border to help in boosting bilateral ties, reports Aloke Tikku.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2007 02:07 IST

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday reiterated his desire to see a treaty of peace and friendship with Islamabad and asked business leaders on both sides of the border to strengthen the hands of the political leadership to promote relations between the two countries.

This is the third time since March 2005 that Singh has spoken of his vision for peace, and it comes days ahead of External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's Islamabad visit.

"I earnestly hope relations between our two countries become so friendly and we generate such an atmosphere of trust... that the two nations will be able to agree on a treaty of peace, security and friendship," Singh said at the annual general body meeting of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

Singh emphasised that political borders are no longer economic and social barriers in an increasingly globalised and integrated world. "I dream of a day when, while retaining our respective national identities, one can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul. That is how my forefathers lived. That is how I want our grandchildren to live."

Suggesting that business could help governments break political barriers, he acknowledged FICCI's efforts in setting up the India-Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

Singh also said there were enormous opportunities for mutually-beneficial cooperation in South Asia but stressed the region would have to "work sincerely" to control terrorism and extremism to exploit these opportunities.

Ahead of his visit to the Philippines for the India-ASEAN and East Asian summits on January 14-15, he underscored India's "commitment" to increased economic interaction between India and the economies of East and Southeast Asia. "We would also like to be a member of the wider Asian Economic Community. This requires greater openness on our part."

In Islamabad, Mukherjee will call on President Pervez Musharraf to invite him to the SAARC Summit in Delhi on April 3-4. He will also hold talks with his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Kasuri.

India has long seen trade as an antidote to divisive politics in the region and for developing vested interests in the two countries for peace.

The South Asia Free Trade Agreement permitted trade in 4,892 items within the region. But in the case of India, Pakistan has restricted imports under SAFTA to a positive list of 1,075. To drive home the Pakistani intransigence, an MEA official recalled that Delhi — which accorded MFN status to Pakistan in 1996 — was assured of an 'MFN-plus' kind of arrangement but nothing of the sort has happened.

"Items in the India-specific positive list can only be exported under the agreed regional norms if they figure in the omnibus SAFTA list," he said, adding, "When we raise it in SAARC, they term it a bilateral matter. When we raise it bilaterally, they say it should be discussed in SAARC." The official said the matter is likely to figure again in Mukherjee's meetings in Islamabad.

Pakistan's Commerce Minister Humayun Akhtar Khan had earlier linked trade to progress in the resolution of bilateral "political disputes, including Kashmir". On Monday, Pakistan responded to Singh's proposal for a treaty of peace, security and friendship by saying it was possible only after resolution of Kashmir and other issues.

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