New Delhi, Nov. 20: One has to acknowledge despite Pakistan’s feverish pitch for Kashmir at every forum that for the first time Pakistan too has begun to realize that you cannot change your neighbor nor ignore them completely. This is all too obvious given the glaring and perceptible shift in its approach in dealing with India.
This alone explains why when India had accorded the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India way back in 1996; Pakistan too just recently decided in favor of the same despite severe opposition from certain influential quarters which is a welcome sign and must be grabbed by both hands by India. In India too, there has been vehement opposition against holding any type of talk or relations with Pakistan unless Pakistan stops cross – border terrorism but this, in my opinion, does not make any sense.
One must be practical and despite strong differences with Pakistan on a horde of issues must engage with Pakistan and strive hard to benefit mutually by more business and economic cooperation.
It is heartening to learn that Indian exporters are likely to be able to ship 7,000 plus items to Pakistan after February 2012. In a positive move, Commerce Secretary of India Rahul Khullar and of Pakistan Zafar Mahmood agreed on November 15 , 2011 to move towards full trade normalization in a phased manner for which , as a first step , Pakistan will transition from the current positive list approach to a negative list and finalize a “small negative list and ratify it by February , 2012”.
Thereafter, all items other than those on the negative list shall be freely exportable from India to Pakistan. Relations between India and Pakistan are now going head over heels which is a very healthy sign. This is the second time the secretaries of the two nations are meeting. Earlier in April 2011, Rahul Khullar had visited Islamabad to restart the trade negotiations put on hold after Mumbai terror attacks in 2008.
Attention is also invited towards the fact that once the negative list is phased out, India would automatically move on to become the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) for Pakistan as per the WTO requirement. Presently, India can only export 1,946 items to Pakistan from the 8,000 tariff lines being traded and the trade between India and Pakistan right now stands at $ 2.6 billion but this measly figure will skyrocket in the days ahead as Pakistan confers the MFN status to India.
Currently, only 2,000 – odd items on the positive list can be traded, while trading in other products is not allowed. Once a negative list is finalized, only those items that are on this list will be barred from trading. Thus, one can safely conclude that it is only by the end of next year that full MFN status will be granted.
India and Pakistan have also arrived at a consensus to enhance the preferential trade arrangement under the SAFTA process. Under this arrangement, both India and Pakistan will slash duties on specified number of items in a phased manner. As far as issues pertaining to the visa regime are concerned, the home secretary level talks are chalked out for end of December as both the sides have arrived at a broad understanding to put in place reciprocal arrangements to liberalize visa regime for businessmen. “A liberalized visa provisions already agreed to are put in place before the end of December 2011”, the joint statement of the Commerce Secretaries of India and Pakistan said.
India and Pakistan have also jointly agreed that for trade through the Attari – Wagah land route, the joint technical group for the same would meet at the end of November and follow it up subsequently so that all infrastructure construction can be completed and fully operational by the end of February 2012 . Also, it is pertinent to mention here that regarding non – tariff barriers (NTBs) which is a serious concern for Pakistan, it was mutually agreed that the list of NTBs forwarded by Pakistan would be comprehensively examined and also the concerned regulators and business men would interact extensively to evolve amicable solutions for the issue.
Further, it must also be pointed out here that an understanding was also hammered out on cooperation in power trading. An understanding was evolved for possible grid connectivity between Amritsar – Lahore to trade up to 500 MW of power while on petroleum trade, the first meeting of a joint working group would be held before January 2012.
While, certainly it would be premature to go gaga in hailing the improving ties between India and Pakistan and using superlatives but certainly it won’t amount to an exaggeration if I say that both countries are warming up to each other and we must be careful to maintain it as cooperation always strengthens both the cooperating parties and bickering always weakens both the sides.
All said and done, both sides must always bear in mind that just one big terror attack can again rupture the growing bonhomie between both the countries and therefore must work out extra to ensure that this doesn’t happen again and security on borders cannot be perilously ignored for terror groups will never be happy to see all this and will leave no opportunity in bringing all this to a nought.