Pakistan welcomed India’s decision to open up to Pakistani investment but businessmen and economists maintained that neither this nor a free trade arrangement would realise their full potential in the absence of proper connectivity between the two countries.
Officially, only the Foreign Office spoke on the issue with the spokesman welcoming the decision and maintaining that it would benefit Pakistani investors and industrialists. And, the usual naysayers had not spoken till Thursday evening on the decision that was the lead news item in most newspapers.
According to a Dawn report from Pakistan’s business capital, Karachi, industry and trade circles have advised caution with many fearing a further flight of capital. Due to the crippling energy crisis in the country and the security situation, many industrialists have already relocated to other countries including Bangladesh in recent years.
Karachi-based businessman Majyd Aziz — an ardent advocate of more trade between the two countries — refused to call it a landmark decision but conceded that in the Indo-Pak context even baby-steps can be a leap. His peeve like that of many others is the lack of connectivity where visas require a Herculean effort and shipping lines are non-existent between the two countries.
The Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) was more upbeat but again called for liberalising the visa regime to make the move more meaningful and result-oriented. In a statement, LCCI President Irfan Qaiser Sheikh urged India to grant multiple visas to bona fide and legitimate businessmen for easy travel.
As for the decision to allow Pakistani investments in India, Mr. Sheikh said it would promote joint ventures and pave the way for transfer of technology as the two countries have their own strengths in different sectors. He hoped India would lift the ban on Indian investments in Pakistan.
“For a better economic future in South Asia, it will be a huge step when businessmen from both countries can freely invest in each other's country. Allowing our country to invest in India is a great confidence booster.’’
Of the view that India has a good chance of attracting Pakistani capital as long as the power crisis continues, Abid Suleri, Executive Director of Sustainable Development Policy Institute, maintained that the fear of flight of capital was misplaced as the profits would in all likelihood return to Pakistan in foreign exchange, helping the forex reserves.
Again identifying connectivity as the key irritant, Mr. Suleri said the visa regime had to be eased to encourage volumes in trade and traffic. Having said this, he conceded that the Indian decision was a good move as it would mute the scepticism that has been rampant in Pakistan about India’s sincerity in improving bilateral relations as New Delhi had not appeared to have reciprocated to Islamabad’s decision to grant the Most Favoured Nation status to India.
And, for lawyer Waqqas Mir, the decision signalled more work. Welcoming the move, he tweeted: “A lot of work for lawyers on both sides. This is good stuff!’’