Monday, Sep 15, 2003
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By K.V. Prasad
The External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, flanked by the High Commissioner of Pakistan, Aziz Ahmed Khan (left), and the CII president, Anand G. Mahindra, at the "India-Pakistan CEOs Business Forum" launched in New Delhi on Sunday. Photo: V.V. Krishnan
Seeking to set another benchmark in India-Pakistan relations, the External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, told a business conference of Chief Executives of both countries that New Delhi was seeking to build good relations with all countries of the world and would like to have close economic, political, social and people-to-people linkages with all.
Asserting that India had no intention to be Pakistan-centric in its policies, Mr. Sinha said he hoped that Pakistan too would succeed in "shedding its obsession" with India. "For example, the practice of turning every international and multilateral forum into a battleground to attack each other should end... Let us put an end to this practice. The coming UNGA will be a test of this," Mr. Sinha said in his inaugural address at the launch of the India-Pakistan CEOs Business Forum, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).
Mr. Sinha said that while the respective domestic media exulted in the coverage of such verbal duel, it lowered the standard of debate of the entire forum in which they take place and was a major source of embarrassment to all those forced to witness this. The Minister's suggestion came after the Pakistan High Commissioner to India, Aziz Ahmed Khan, raked up the issue of Jammu and Kashmir stating that failure to address "this most crucial issue" was the main reason for the present state of cooperation and relations.
Referring to the peace initiative, he said while this had generated enthusiasm at the popular level that finally the two countries would be able to make a new beginning in bilateral relations by addressing "the Kashmir issue and all other irritants dividing", even after five months these hopes and expectations remained unrealised.
Suggesting that "we must seize the moment and respond with alacrity to the popular mood", he said there was a need to move at a faster pace at the official level and engage in a "comprehensive, composite and result-oriented dialogue process" covering all aspects of bilateral relations.
Earlier, referring to the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee's peace initiative, Mr. Sinha listed a number of steps taken to advance people-to-people contacts. However, he noted that despite progress there were areas where both countries have not been able to move forward the first round of Civil Aviation talks and denial of visas for a Tea trade delegation and a team of jurists from India being cases in point.
While maintaining that New Delhi did not intend to allow "these setbacks to cool our enthusiasm in any manner," he emphasised on the need for greater economic interaction between the two neighbours.
The Minister said that trade between India and Pakistan at present stood at $200 million to 250 million, which was a "miniscule" fraction of the trade between India and other countries in the sub-continent such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Reminding that despite the "ups and downs" in bilateral relations, India has continued to extend the Most Favoured Nation treatment to Pakistan, Mr. Sinha said New Delhi hoped that Pakistan would reciprocate and remove all non-tariff barriers. He also assured that India would remove "on urgent basis" if there were any "Pakistan specific" restrictions.
Earlier, the CII-sponsored meet saw the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to set up the India-Pakistan CEOs Business Forum. A similar forum would be established in Pakistan.
The Forum aims to enhance networking opportunities, facilitate relationship building, engagement and information sharing, improve discussions on policy and procedures and increase trade and investment promotion.
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