Business leaders urge PM Shehbaz to initiate trade talks with India which will benefit Pakistan's economy

The Prime Minister sat down with the business community to find ways to uplift the economy through exports

Published - April 25, 2024 12:34 pm IST - Islamabad

Shehbaz Sharif

Shehbaz Sharif | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Pakistan business leaders in an interactive session with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif urged him to initiate trade talks with India to promote business and commerce which would greatly benefit the economy of the cash-strapped country.

Posing tough questions during an hour-long meeting at the Sindh CM House here in Pakistan's commercial capital on April 24, Karachi’s business community appreciated the Prime Minister's determination to tackle economic issues but advised him to focus on bringing about political stability to “turn around” the economy.

The Prime Minister sat down with the business community to find ways to uplift the economy through exports but his resolve was met with apprehensions from industry leaders who said it was “almost impossible” to do business under the current circumstances, particularly with high energy costs and inconsistent government policies, the Dawn newspaper reported.

After the Prime Minister's brief speech, the house was opened for a question and answer session, during which business leaders voiced their appreciation for the government’s recent moves, but made more demands.

They also shared proposals for economic policies to achieve desired results.

There was a sense of concern among the business leaders over the political instability in the country for which they even advised the Prime Minister to take initiative as the head of the government.

“You have made a few handshakes after taking charge that have produced good results and progress on the IMF deal is one of them,” said Arif Habib, the chief of Arif Habib Group – a capital market giant.

They also asked the prime minister to initiate the trade talks with India, the report added.

“I suggest you do a few more handshakes. One of them is regarding trade with India, which would greatly benefit our economy. Secondly, you should also (patch up) with a resident of Adiala Jail (a reference to jailed PTI leader Imran Khan). Try to fix things at that level as well and I believe that you can do it.” The bilateral ties nosedived after India abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution, revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcating the State into two Union Territories on August 5, 2019.

India’s decision evoked strong reactions from Pakistan, which downgraded diplomatic ties and expelled the Indian envoy. Pakistan has also cut off direct trade ties with India.

India has repeatedly told Pakistan that Jammu and Kashmir “was, is and shall forever” remain an integral part of the country.

Prime Minister Sharif avoided responding directly to the questions aimed at political stability, but claimed to have noted down his proposals for economic growth and assured him that he would soon invite businessmen from all across the country to Islamabad and sit with them “till all the issues aren’t resolved”.

The business leader also suggested Mr. Shehbaz initiate talks with imprisoned PTI founding chairman Imran Khan — apparently for political stability.

Mr. Shehbaz, who had arrived in the port city on his maiden visit after assuming charge last month, said the meeting was an attempt to listen to the “brilliant minds of business, absorb what they say and put it into action” for a comprehensive economic growth roadmap.

“You all are great minds of business... Today we need you to take a step forward and bring this rental business to an end. Let’s focus on genuine industrial and agricultural growth and double the exports in the next five years. It’s difficult but not impossible. It’s an article of faith for me. I would listen to you and make a plan to put that into action.” In a veiled reference to the booming economy of Bangladesh, he recalled ‘East Pakistan’, which was “once considered” a burden on the country, but had made tremendous strides in industrial growth.

“I was quite young when... we were told that it’s a burden on our shoulders...Today you all know where that ‘burden’ has reached (in terms of economic growth). And we feel ashamed when we look towards them,” said Prime Minister Shehbaz.

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