AMAN KI ASHA: PEACE DIVIDENDS
May 11, 2012
Home to some of the ancient civilisations, the South Asia Sub-Continent has not been able to develop commensurate to its resources and population due to inter-state conflicts which have marred this region’s capacity to grow and reap the bonanza of international trade and global tourism. Cognizant of this fact, the people of both Pakistan and India, in particular their business community, are attaching great expectations to the outcome of the ongoing peace initiatives, including Aman Ki Asha move, collaboratively launched by the Jang Group of Pakistan and The Times of India, and wish these efforts to crown with success.
While inaugurating the second Aman Ki Asha Indo-Pakistan Economic Conference on the theme “Dividends” in Lahore, on May 7, Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani extended Pakistan Government’s unwavering support to the cause of peace between Pakistan and India. He welcomed India’s decision to grant the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan and said that Pakistan also “looks forward to the removal of non-tariff barriers by India.” If trade barriers are removed, the Confederation of Indian Industries has predicted that the trade between Pakistan and India may touch US$ 10 billion by 2015 against US$ 2.7 billion at present.
Heavyweights of trade and industry, both from Pakistan and India, participated in large number in the 2-day Lahore moot, considering it a great opportunity to enhance the quantum of bilateral trade between Pakistan and India. When “Asha” – hope – meets opportunity, success and confidence are sure to come paving the way for a progressive future and this aspiration became the prime force to attract the industry Moguls to the conference. The industrialists believe that the ground-breaking event would lay the foundation for future interaction and cooperation between the businessmen from both the countries and their mutually beneficial contacts would not only bring about better economic relations, but would also play a vital role in achieving a long lasting and sustainable peace between the two neighbouring countries.
In fact, the Jang Group and The Times of India’s initiative has already done a lot in paving the way for better relations between Pakistan and India, and the recently concluded conference provided a launching pad to excel through cooperation in all sectors. Both Pakistan and India announced, last year, a roadmap to boost trade relations. Only one year later, in April 2012 to be precise, the trade gate at the Wagha-Attari border was formally opened and New Delhi announced allowing direct Pakistani investment in India. These moves became a reality because of a shift in the bilateral relations and the prudent decision of the leaders of the two countries to adopt the China-India model for the resolution of contentious issues between them. The China-India model entails focusing on increasing bilateral trade, while resolving thorny issues in a “step-by-step incremental manner.”
One of the biggest advantages of bilateral trade between Pakistan and India is reduction in the cost of transportation. Till recently, the trade between the two countries has mostly been taking place through third countries, which increased the cost of products due to third-party profits and the cost of transportation. Direct trade between Pakistan and India would not only give a boost to their economies, but would also enable their people to buy the imported goods at comparative cheaper rates than in the past. Presently, some trade also takes place between the two countries through informal channels. According to some estimates, the quantum of their informal trade is about 40-50 percent of the trade that is routed through the official channels.
Besides, both the countries have a natural synergy; the Indians have surplus cotton while Pakistan has yarn and grey cloth. The quality of spinning and weaving in Pakistan is much better and if it were not for energy-related issues, Pakistan could reap windfall dividends from Pakistan-India bilateral trade. Furthermore, strong trade ties will create a degree of dependence upon each other as a result of which neither of the two parties will be able to disturb peace.
Individuals, entities and states all cherish peace because it embodies opportunities enabling one to grow and prosper, making best use of one’s talents and expertise. It is peace that provides atmosphere conducive for free travel and inter-state trade, yielding considerable profits to businessmen and substantial revenues to states in taxes/duties on goods traded through their borders. Peace also provides opportunities to citizens to get goods of their choice conveniently, comfortably and at reasonable rates. Furthermore, the investors prefer to set up factories in countries where there is peace, and they flee from regions stricken by turmoil, violence or militancy. Even mere apprehension about the disruption of peace can result in their departure from such areas. The entrepreneurs are like ‘touch-me-not’ flower (Choi Moi), which withers away even with a single touch of human hand. In the same manner, the investors promptly pack-up from war-prone or conflict zones. As lack of new investment hinders creation of additional job opportunities, this results in perpetuating misery and poverty in the violence-ridden regions.
In view of peace dividends, all states strive to achieve peace by securing their natural borders (like rivers and mountains) and keeping great distances through buffer zones, deserts, oceans, etc., between oneself and the potential enemies, or fostering social distance by prejudice and discrimination. However, it is another thing that national borders and distances become ludicrous in the age of rockets and missiles; while nationalist prejudices tend to breakdown in the age of extended interaction.
At macro level, the advantages of peace can be explained by making a comparative study of foreign investment in the Far East Asia region vis-a-viz the South Asia and Afghanistan. Since the Far Eastern countries are, by and large, free from inter-state feuds, they have a substantial regional trade and have also attracted sufficient foreign investments and, in the process, made considerable progress, earning the title of ‘Tiger Economies.’ On the other hand, the South Asian countries, which have remained engrossed in disputes, feuds and rivalries till recently, have a negligible inter-region trade and failed in attracting foreign investments commensurate to their huge market size, catering to the needs of almost one-fourth of the mankind. Consequently, the South Asia region remains under-developed, unable to provide even the basic necessities of life, like good education, health and civic facilities, to most of its citizens.
In view of the importance of peace in the life of nations, one would commend the initiative taken by the South Asia Sub-continent’s two media giants – Jang group in Pakistan and ‘The Times of India’ -- aimed at establishing enduring peace in the region. According to a survey, some 72 of Pakistanis and 66 percent of the Indians favour genuine and lasting peace between their countries. No doubt, on both sides of the border, there exist some extremist elements that are very vocal and continue to churn out venomous propaganda, but the peace process must not become a hostage to their hawkish agenda.
If before the arrival of the British, the Muslims and Hindus could live together for centuries without any major conflict on the basis of religion, why can’t they live peacefully now? At present, due to six decades of conflict and rivalry, South Asia is one of the poorest regions of the world. Some 20 percent of the global population lives here, but it produces only five percent of the global gross domestic product.