Time to resume India trade, doors will open: Pak’s top industrialist

Pakistan’s top industrialist Mian Mohammed Mansha believes it is time his country and India resume trade, and improve relations for their betterment.

Mansha, who heads the Nishat conglomerate, Pakistan’s No. 1 business group, told The Indian Express from Dubai where he is at the moment, that there are “many synergies” between the two countries that can come into play once trade begins.

“I feel very passionately that we need to get our things sorted out with India. Now whatever the issues that are impeding, let them be there. But once they come to one another’s country, through trade, tourism – religious tourism or normal tourism — I think the doors will start opening,” 75-year-old Mansha said.

He said the Kashmir issue had to be resolved with “small steps” to “bring temperatures down”. He also spoke on opening up Bollywood to Pakistani actors and India’s IPL to Pakistani cricketers.

Earlier this year, the industrialist, counted as the most influential voice of the business community in Pakistan, had called for resumption of trade with India at a meeting of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Reiterating the statements he made at that meeting, Mansha, whose businesses range from textiles to cement to automobiles, said if India could continue to import from China despite its border issues, there was no reason for Pakistan not to resume trade with India.

“I think there’s nothing better than having good relations with your neighbours. And you can’t change neighbours,” he said, pointing to the advantages that importing from India would give Pakistan.

“I am a businessman. That’s why I say that if something is cheaper in India, why should I buy that from another country? The transportation cost is less (from India),” he said. “There are so many products that we could buy. We (the Nishat Group) make Hyundai cars. Hyundai India is very big. We could buy some parts cheaper from India, than buying from China, for example. And you are also trading with China in such a large way. Your imports from China are huge, and if you look at it, you also have issues with China on the issue of territories and all that.”

Trade between the two countries dwindled after India doubled tariffs following the Pulwama attack in February 2019. Later, after India’s decisions in J&K that August, Pakistan stopped trade with India.

Last year, days after the powerful Pakistan Army indicated that it had a “geo-economic vision” of South Asia – Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa outlined this in a speech — Pakistan announced it would begin restricted trade with India for cotton and sugar. However, the decision was abruptly cancelled after several ministers in the then Imran Khan government opposed it.

Last week, Imran Khan was removed as Prime Minister by the country’s parliament. Though Mansha said he had not met Shehbaz Sharif, the new Prime Minister, in three-four years, he was aware that Sharif was not against resumption of trade with India.

“What I think is we do need to move ahead on the resolution of the Kashmir issue, we could take small, small steps. I do think we need to lower the temperature,” he said, pointing to the “Musharraf formula” that paved the way for cross-LoC trade and bus services that allowed families on either side to meet, interact and do business with each other, though other steps such as reducing military presence on both sides did not take place. Mansha also spoke on the opening of flights from Sharjah as a pointer to the tourism potential of Kashmir.

On trade, Mansha said a beginning could be made with Pakistan importing cotton from India and exporting cement.

“I am in the cement business. We have one big plant, in Chakwal district (of Pakistan Punjab province) where Mr Manmohan Singh was born. We have even preserved the school that he attended. You don’t have limestone in Indian Punjab and areas around the border, so it is much cheaper to buy Pakistani cement. We used to export a lot of cement to India, till all this trading abruptly stopped. So it is not a bad idea if we could import cotton, and we could export some cement to India,” he said.

“I also deal with cotton textile companies, where we want to use Indian cotton. And we also grow a lot of cotton and now we are buying some cotton from Afghanistan, and from so many other countries that we import. Our cotton seasons are slightly different. When you grow cotton, we don’t grow cotton at that time. It would be very good that when our season comes, you could buy it from us. And when yours comes, we could import it from you, rather than paying carrying charges from other countries,” he said.

Mansha said investment too should begin. “For example, if Tata invests in Pakistan, you will have employees here… and I think interconnections do build up”.

There would be hawks on both sides, he acknowledged, but pointed to the 1978 Camp David accord between Israel’s Menachem Begin and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat as an example of breaking through mistrust and hostility. He also mentioned the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was treated with suspicion at the beginning, but has been beneficial for Mexico, the US and Canada.

The India-Pakistan cultural relationship, he said, was also important. “Indian movies coming to Pakistan, and Pakistani dramas were being seen in India… Some of our actors got better chances in Bollywood… but the biggest thing we need to start is that our cricketers should be playing in your IPL tournament. And yours could come to the PCL. Cricket is a big business now,” he said.

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