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India and Pakistan should increase bilateral trade

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    India and Pakistan should increase bilateral trade

    For several years India wanted to boost trade links with Pakistan , but was snubbed by Pakistan. Pakistan's policy was "First Kashmir then Business". India has now stopped pursuing Pakistan on matters related to business and is looking East to build economic ties with Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia and other Western powers. It's also trying to build economic ties with other Islamic nations in Central Asia, North Africa and Middle East like Iran, Morocco, Egypt and Turkey.

    Tie-ups with East get boost


    High-level visits by Singapore, Vietnamese and Indonesian leaders revive Delhi's stagnant Look East policy and pave the way for more economic exchanges
    NEW DELHI -- The visits to India in quick succession by Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong, Singapore's Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid have given new energy to New Delhi's stalled "Look East" policy.

    The policy was launched in 1992 by then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.

    Mr Rao was striving to break out of the Cold War mould, which saw the Asean-India relationship marked by disagreements and by New Delhi's perceived closeness to the erstwhile Soviet Union.

    India was also essentially shut out of Asia-Pacific Economic Forum (Apec) and the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem).

    Most Indian analysts call the period one of missed opportunities.

    This was rectified somewhat by Mr Rao, whose new policy underscored the fact that the old world order had given way to a new one in which many countries sought to define their role in an uncertain and potentially dangerous landscape.

    Also, as former secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs and ambassador to Thailand A.N. Ram says: "Asean for us was not a political expediency, it was an economic necessity."

    The Indian bureaucracy began to respond. Visits between India and Asean countries grew more frequent and India became an Asean and Asean Regional Forum dialogue partner.

    Investments from Asean grew, but received a setback when the proposed Singapore Airline-Tata Group venture was quietly but firmly axed by New Delhi's bureaucracy under pressure from vested interests.

    The setback was a serious one, throwing the credibility of India's new commitment to a progressively more open economy into doubt.

    In 1998, the East Asian financial crisis swept through Asean member states, keeping governments and the private sector preoccupied with damage control and reforms and slowing economic activity to a crawl.

    By late last year, most of the affected countries had weathered the storm, many exporting themselves out of trouble.

    As the affected countries climbed out of the crisis in 1999, India was drawn into its own crises: political flux and instability, the disintegration of the detente with Pakistan and the complex challenge of redefining a role as a nuclear power.

    Mr Rao had made it a point to visit an Asean country -- Thailand -- in 1993, on his first trip overseas as Prime Minister.

    Up to the mid-1990s looking east was a reality, but in the late 1990s the momentum vanished.

    In 1998 and much of last year, there were no mutual high-level visits between India and Asean.

    But last December, President Tran Duc Luong of Vietnam visited New Delhi -- the first visit of that level since Ho Chi Minh.

    It was an occasion to "reaffirm political connections", an official in New Delhi told Sunday Review.

    Mr Goh's visit last month received wide media attention and laid the groundwork for potentially exciting win-win cooperation in high-tech areas such as information technology.

    And during the visit this month of Mr Abdurrahman, a joint commission was set up under which foreign ministers of the two countries will have an annual meeting -- something which never happened under the Suharto government.

    "It was an opportunity after many years to restore some warmth," an External Affairs Ministry official told Sunday Review, also noting the fact that Indonesia had moved to a democratic system more akin to India's.

    Mr Abdurrahman is widely respected in India. Wrote political analyst Dileep Padgaonkar recently: "In this Muslim scholar, a Gandhian by choice and a defender of just causes by temperament, India will find a leader it can do business with."

    Former ambassador to Indonesia Vinod Khanna in a commentary wrote that the visit presented India with an "unprecedented opportunity to build a special relationship with a country with immense potential importance for its interests".

    Mr Ram told Sunday Review: "In the new architecture, partnership with Indonesia is very important. Indonesia is a Muslim country, but with a secular and moderate attitude."

    Jakarta was struggling to deal with issues India could identify with -- among them separatism and the treatment of minorities, Mr Ram said.

    At the private-sector level, India's relationship with Singapore lies in forging synergistic upper-end high-technology partnerships, making use of Singaporean investment and Indian skills.

    A clutch of Singaporean firms -- among them Sembawang Corp, JTC International and Pacific Internet -- have firm toeholds in the Indian market.

    The business opportunities generated by the visits of Mr Goh and Mr Abdurrahman were ''very realistic", said the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) desk officer for South-east Asia Rama Naidu.

    "Interest has been rekindled," Ms Naidu said.

    In Indonesia, Indian companies have a market and possibly a role in rebuilding.

    At a focus group meeting with the CII, several areas of opportunities were identified in Indonesia: information technology, telecommunications, steel, agribusiness, generic drugs export, human resource development and environmental management.

    At the government-level, Mr Abdurrahman and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee agreed that India would also assist Indonesia in oil and natural gas exploration, and help Jakarta evolve a national science policy.

    "All these developments represent a new phase and a revival of our Look East policy," an Indian official told Sunday Review.

    The challenge now is to get diplomats and the private sector to put the new policy into practice.

    If India and Pakistan did more together they would both gain. Tis way both are suffering.
    They could pool their resources in the fields of science, education, etc, but think what great savings on armaments! However this is probably frowned upon by the powers that be.


      Two years ago, India-Pakistan relations were supposedly in a "thaw." Talk was of trade, shared power grids, confidence building measures, and back-channel diplomacy. A year ago last week, Indian Mr. Vajpayee took a bus trip to Lahore, Pakistan to sign a peace accord with then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
      The Pakistani intelligentsia in Islamabad views the fervor to fight for Kashmir to be of questionable value for Pakistan, and a thorn in the side of a dysfunctional economy and its ability to attract foreign investment. Real talks can only take place in an atmosphere of quiet and in a highly secret manner, they say. "Which is more important - Kashmir, or Pakistan?" says retired general Talaat Masood. "I think we've lost our perspective on that question."