Successfully promoting peace and engagement, Aman Ki Asha is now ready to broker trade and economic advancements.
The Second Indo-Pak economic forum titled “Dividends” was recently held under the auspices of Aman Ki Asha, a joint initiative undertaken by the Jang Group Pakistan and Times of India. The forum kicked off with much vigor and enthusiasm from both sides, determined to explore innovative options to enhance trade and explore mutually profitable business options. The meeting came at a time when much is being made of the bilateral relationship, which has seen more setbacks than successes. In the backdrop of dialogue and cultural fests there was also the dark shadow of the Siachen tragedy and the consequent deadlock between the two nations. An economic forum designed to bring together leading businessmen and experts from trade and investment representing both the government and private sectors, was perhaps a wise choice, in such times.
The two-day forum included six exhaustive discussions exploring ways to remove barriers to trade and explore new avenues where business leaders can cooperate, apart from easing visa restrictions on both sides. Sharat Sabharwal, the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, expressed hope that an agreement for liberalizing the business visa regime between India and Pakistan will be signed during an upcoming meeting of senior officials of the two countries.
While addressing the inaugural session, Prime Minister Gilani said that Pakistan was committed to resolving all outstanding issues through dialogue and wanted to create an economically rich bilateral relationship, which could produce peace and prosperity for people on both sides of the border. He expressed confidence with Pakistan’s decision to revise the negative trading list with India, claiming that this move would prove instrumental in enhancing understanding and opening up opportunities.
Aman Ki Asha is designed to usher in a new era of peace and mutual cooperation. Shahrukh Hasan of the Jang Group claimed that given the recent turn in the economy, the world was turning to Asia and the South Asia region was poised perfectly for such an event. Marked with tremendous potential and an unparalleled opportunity, the region lies at the center and can reap maximum profits, if desired.
Executive President of the Times of India Group, Rahul Kansal, lauded the efforts undertaken by the initiative and called upon the media to promote the agenda of peace within the civil society. While cultural exchange was taking place through music, food and fashion festivals, commerce on the other hand remained stationary. The recent granting of the MFN status by the Gilani government, the consequent trade agreements signed, the move towards easing visa restrictions and establishing platforms such as Aman Ki Asha, can serve as a significant achievement and triggers further engagement.
High Commissioners from India and Pakistan were present throughout to answer questions and present a detailed framework of the work conducted by both sides. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar also expressed her desire to see people-to-people contact, which she deemed the foremost way to create better understanding.
While the efforts of Aman Ki Asha are commendable it was disheartening to see this particular forum succumb to Pakistan’s heated political atmosphere. The inclusion of PTI chairman, Imran Khan was largely unnecessary as he used the platform to present his party’s manifesto on an engaged partnership with India. The beauty of Aman Ki Asha lay in its neutral stance and its efforts as a nonpartisan private initiative. Chief Minister Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif also spoke on the occasion, appreciating the effort and expressing his conviction that a new era in economic collaboration was in place.
Having featured a politician like Imran Khan, whose presence largely overshadowed the conference itself, one wonders how much a nonpartisan image will now feature in initiatives undertaken by Aman Ki Asha. Whatever the case, it is certain though that private sector initiatives such as this achieve much more than government efforts and will certainly help to usher in a new era of peace, understanding, cooperation and dialogue.