Security and terrorism may have often stalled India-Pakistan relations in the past but healthy trade relations are boosting confidence levels and could help to normalise ties, a senior official has said.

Two years after then Foreign Secretaries Salman Bashir [now High Commissioner of Pakistan to India] and Nirupama Rao [presently Indian Ambassador in Moscow] kick-started the dialogue process suspended after the Mumbai attacks, the biggest achievement is on the trade and economic front, said Additional Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs Yash K Sinha at a meet on South Asia economic integration organised by the CII.

Mr. Sinha credited the increased Government-to-Government and business-to-business contacts on this score as having contributed to a market improvement in the environment.

India was still waiting for certain steps to be taken by Pakistan – most favoured nation status to India by this month end and opening up the sole land route to all permissible items.

The completion of formalities could set the stage for both countries to move to a Preferential Trading Arrangement. It would lead to India immediately reducing the list of sensitive items barred from trading to just 100 and Pakistan reciprocating the gesture over a period of five years.

The diplomat referred to observations by Pakistan Senate Chairman Syed Nayyer Hussain Bokhari to suggest opening of more land routes because the only trading route near Amritsar will cater only to north India and Pakistan Punjab.

Opening the conference, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai declared India’s abiding interest in pushing ahead with economic integration among SAARC countries but felt “non-economic considerations’’ bar the way for the expansion of business.

“We are clear that policies are made in each country, based on that countries’ law. But once such policies are in place, in line with international practices, we should not allow non-economic considerations to affect functioning of commercial entities in each other countries,’’ he said.

Bangladesh High Commissioner Traiq Karim resented his country being bracketed with Pakistan when it came to investing in India. “We are still bracketed with Pakistan in terms of security. The RBI mechanism spits out the application and it is thrown on the wayside because we are still a security risk.... We have taken this up, I don’t know how long it will take,” he complained.

“The major problem is banking transactions. If I go to Dhaka, you will see over 100 Indian brand names over there. I face questions from my own family that why cannot we see Bangladeshi brand names here. We had somebody apply for setting up an outlet here but he cannot.’’

If Bangladeshis are not permitted to even open bank accounts, “they are not going to come. These are little things but they translate into huge things,” he said while hoping that before he left India after a year, there would be a revised travel arrangement in place to make communication easier.

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