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Steps towards peace?

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  • Steps towards peace?

    Piece by piece, Pakistan and India are incrementally working towards better relations. The process was given a jolt by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s visit to New Delhi and since then there has been good news on the economic front. Last month, Amin Fahim, the trade minister, and his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma announced that trade between the two countries would soon reach $6 billion a year, more than double the current amount. India then dropped its objections to the European Union importing goods from Pakistan duty-free. This move was particularly encouraging since the EU will most likely import textiles from Pakistan, which may very well come at the expense of Indian textiles. Now, further moves are afoot that could lead to improved ties in the medium-term. Following up on interior secretary level talks in March, Pakistan and India have now agreed — in principle — to provide multiple-entry visas to businessmen and to make the visa procedure simpler.
    Clearly, making visas easier to obtain for businessmen is a welcome move (though it is yet to be formally approved by both the governments). Once this is in place, the countries might want to give a thought to extending the same courtesy to those in the fields of sports, education and arts and entertainment. One possible move could be to persuade the Indian Premier League to re-allow Pakistani cricketers to come to India and take part in the Twenty20 tournament. Increased person-to-person contact will serve to weaken the hawks on both sides of the border.
    The visa relaxation, once implemented, could promote greater trade between the two neighbours. Illegal trade that is routed through Dubai and Singapore costs the two countries about $2 billion a year. Pakistan will now also remove further items from the list of goods that India is not allowed to import from here. The hope is that this will eventually lead to tariff-free trade between the two countries. Eventually, closer economic ties will force more political cooperation. As the economic destinies of the two countries become ever more closely intertwined, that will make the thought a political standoff increasingly unpalatable.
    Published in The Express Tribune, October 16th, 2011.