It was a revelation for some of the young entrepreneurs from India, who are on their first visit to Pakistan, that the country was not that much different from India.

A young entrepreneur from India travelling from Lahore to Islamabad was pleasantly surprised to find the smooth motorway to the capital which let her sleep comfortably. Others were shocked at the “development” in Pakistan and the presence of American food chains such as Dunkin Donuts, which goes unreported in the media according to them.

Twenty–two young entrepreneurs from India, most of them on their first visit, were in Islamabad from Tuesday to take part in an Indo-Pak Young Entrepreneurs Bilateral and other interactions organised by the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Young Indians and Commonwealth Asia Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs(CAAYE).

Speaking out on pre-conceived notions about Pakistan at the Bilateral on Tuesday, Jennifer Lewis e Kamat of the Green Education Programme of the Confederation of Indian Industry and Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre said: “We were amazed at the IT Park in Lahore and how technology is used for so many things and we can even take some ideas back.”

Namrata Khona, director Nextep Learning Systems, said she expected all women to wear a burqa and so it was a revelation to see women wearing jeans. Some said they felt at home and Pakistan was not that much different from India.

However, on the business front, this perception about Pakistan has different consequences. Mohsin Khalid, a Pakistani businessman, said that he did have to dispel notions that it was a backward country to the business community in India. The first thing he often had to do was counter negative perceptions about technical, intellectual and economic capacities and sometimes this can take a couple of days.

Bharat Jain, a lawyer from Chennai said he expected to visit the courts and found a great similarity between the culture and people.

Some felt education was important to dispel stereotypes. Shazia Bakshi, administrator Delhi Public School, Srinagar, said that 60 to 80 per cent of the people in India and Pakistan were between 18 to 40 years of age and destiny lies in their hands. It was important to break barriers and build bridges, she said. “We are here to strengthen people-to-people ties and find ways to create business relationships,” she added. Businessmen called for better regulation and improvement in trade since there was a demand from both countries for goods. However, they called for breaking the barriers of distrust and a more friendly visa regime. Stereotypes have to be removed from the school level and education was important, added Ms. Bakshi. In this context, setting up an Entrepreneurs Student Net was important, according to Prof Mohan B Rao, associate dean, Indian Education Society’s Management College and Research Centre. The idea of working at the grassroots level to engage students has a big role to play in the two countries and this idea of a network between students and entrepreneurs could be the starting point.

Jacob Joy, director, J J Confectionary, said that the main aim of the visit was to build friendships and he was bowled over by the hospitality. ”We are talking of business prospects and putting out feelers,” he said. Last year a similar event had taken place in India and this was a reciprocal visit, said Dr. Rahul Mirchandani, founder-president of CAAYE.

Youth from 15 cities are here on this four-day trip to Lahore and Islamabad to forge business to business contact and check out opportunities. Shiraz Gidwani who is heading the delegation said they had visited the e- governance centres, health care, urban transport sectors and also looked at the fashion industry to try and bring the two countries together.

Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) which is backing this mission, and the Commonwealth Asia Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs (CAAYE) are facilitating a series of bilateral meetings between young leaders from Pakistan and India on this mission in Lahore and Islamabad from October 27 to 30.