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India asks Pak to open Wagah-Attari border for trade
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 12
India today made 35-odd path-breaking proposals to Pakistan for boosting bilateral commercial and economic cooperation but the attitude of Islamabad was clear from the fact that it neither responded positively nor did it make a single proposal from its side.

Three of the most important proposals made by India were that Wagah-Attari international border be opened for trade, an optical fibre cable be laid from Attari to Lahore for direct telecommunication links, and permission to multiple airlines for operation of scheduled services on reciprocal basis.

One positive aspect, however, was that as the two-day talks between the two countries’ Commerce Secretaries ended in Islamabad today, the first round of composite dialogue concluded after a gap of six years.

The Pakistani side took note of the Indian proposals but did not respond. The impression given by the Pakistani side, sources said, was: “We can’t move in a big way till the Kashmir issue is settled”.

The two sides issued a joint press statement here and Islamabad simultaneously which made no promising announcements and merely stated that “the discussions were held in a frank and cordial atmosphere. Wide ranging proposals were made on various aspects of economic and commercial cooperation. These would be considered further.”

Sources said Indian proposals pertained to increasing commercial and economic cooperation with Pakistan in such areas as trade facilities, telecom, civil aviation, petroleum and gas and infrastructure.

On India’s long-standing demand for giving it the most favoured nation (MFN) status, just as India has given MFN status to Pakistan years ago, the Pakistani side told the Indians that they could not do it because India had non-tariff barriers. India said this was not a valid point.

The Indian side proposed that both countries should grant transit facilities for each other’s goods, sources said today.

The Indian delegation to the talks in Islamabad was led by Commerce Secretary Dipak Chatterjee while the Pakistani side was headed by his counterpart Tasneem Noorani.

Some of the Indian proposals made to Pakistan are as follows:

* Promote investment in joint ventures in identified sectors.

* Pakistani authorities should initiate measures to tackle piracy of Indian films and music in that country.

* Facilitate cooperation between mobile operators between the two countries.

* Allow multiple airlines for operations of scheduled services on a reciprocal basis.

* Amend the 1974 protocol on shipping services and also allow third country flagships to ferry cargo to India and Pakistan.

* India offered to supply petroleum products, including diesel, to Pakistan and suggested exchange of experience in the compressed natural gas (CNG) sector. Participation of Indian companies in Pakistan, both offshore and onshore, was mooted.

* Cooperation in such fields as infrastructure, capital market, IT, postal services and banking.

Sources said the Pakistani attitude of slowdown in economic and political cooperation was understandable and expected because the government would come in for criticism from the powerful army set-up that Indo-Pak relations were galloping to normalisation without settling the Kashmir dispute.

The message the Indian side gave to the Pakistanis was that the Indian economy was booming without them and it was upto them to board the bus of economic development or miss it at its own peril.
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