(MENAFN -Khaleej Times) Chief minister of Pakistan?s Punjab warns against distrustful security agencies in both countries
Chief minister of Pakistan’s most populated and affluent province, Punjab, has warned that distrustful “security agencies” in both Pakistan and India were one of the two main “blockages” holding back plans to liberalise trade.
Shahbaz, widely regarded as the most powerful figure in the country after his brother and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, mutually shares the belief that freeing bilateral trade between the two countries will provide a desperately needed boost to Pakistan’s moribund economy.
Talking to Guardian, Shahbaz warned the military establishments of both India and Pakistan not to block efforts to sweep aside trade barriers between the two neighbours.
“Security agencies on both sides need to really understand that in today’s world, a security-led vision is obviously driven by economic security,” the younger Sharif, who has also conducted diplomatic missions to Delhi on behalf of his brother, said, adding: “Unless you have economic security then you can’t have general security.” While the Sharif brothers, in common with most mainstream politicians in Pakistan, are impatient for a rapprochement with India, the military is far more wary and has cautioned against making rapid concessions, particularly in the run up to India’s general election, Guardian noted.
Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, has long favoured better relations with Pakistan and may still travel across the frontier before the polls, which are due in April or May. But the brothers are determined to make progress. Shahbaz said disputes including Kashmir, cross-border water rights and the Siachen glacier — where soldiers from both sides are engaged in a gruelling, high-altitude standoff — would only be resolved through “dialogue and imaginative thinking”.
“If we remain hostage to our past then we will go nowhere,” Sharif said.
This week India expressed its annoyance with the slow pace of reform in Pakistan when Anand Sharma, India’s commerce and industry minister, cancelled a trip to Pakistan due to coincide with the second trade show to be held by Indian companies in Lahore on Friday.
Sharma said Pakistan had failed to enact trade-boosting measures that had been agreed upon, including the start of round-the-clock truck passage at one of only two border crossings and the opening up to trade of hundreds of currently restricted items.
Even though Pakistan and India share thousands of miles of border, common languages and many cultural traditions, trade is negligible and mostly done through third countries that enormously raises cost.
Few goods cross through the border crossing at Wagah border, which sits between Lahore and the Indian city of Amritsar — just a dozen miles from each.
India also continues to press Pakistan to tackle militants targeting occupied Kashmir, in particular Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Punjab-based group that was responsible for the devastating terrorist attacks on the city of Mumbai in 2008.
Sharif said he told Singh during a meeting in Delhi in December that the matter was with Pakistan’s courts and “those who are found to be involved, there is no question they will be punished”.
Sharif said India has its own hardline groups opposed to peace efforts, naming the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a rightwing Hindu nationalist organisation which he said regularly protested against Pakistan.
Sharif said Islamabad had presented credible evidence of Indian involvement in the separatist insurgency raging in the troubled province of Balochistan.
“Both countries need to stop the blame game and jointly resolve to move aside these roadblocks and move forward with a clear-cut agenda,” he said.Nonetheless, in a bid to appease hardline nationalists, Pakistan has dropped efforts to grant India “most favoured nation” status. In a purely semantic reworking, it has opted instead for the less inflammatory “non-discriminatory market access”.
Indian officials said the issue of involvement in Balochistan was raised at a strained meeting between Singh and Nawaz Sharif in New York last year. “The prime minister subsequently said he had seen no credible evidence from the Pakistani side to back the allegations and since then there has been no change in that,” the Delhi official said. —