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Kashmir still a core issue, says Pervaiz Elahi
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 3
“Peace is not a choice but a must. It can only be ensured if certain core issues, including Kashmir, are settled at the federal level,” says visiting Chief Minister of West Punjab, Pervaiz Elahi, hoping that a satisfying solution would be found to this problem through continuous dialogue.

Participating in an interaction programme on “Business Opportunities in East and West Punjab” at the northern headquarters of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) here this afternoon, Mr Elahi said that all barriers between two countries would go only after their leaders come to a settlement on core issues.

Though Mr Elahi avoided any reference to Kashmir in his speech, he opened up after a question was posed to him on why two nations should not divert their funds earmarked for defence to alleviation of poverty and overall development of basic infrastructure.

“We cannot shut our eyes to reality. Though war is no solution to any problem, yet we must look at its root cause. We feel that wishes of people of Kashmir should also be taken into consideration for finding a solution to the satisfaction of both the nations. We earnestly hope that some solution will be there for lasting peace in the region.

“Exchange of delegates, trade missions are increasing. People to people contact programme is improving. Efforts are being made by the two countries for peace. It never happened before . Unless we find solutions to our problems, we really cannot progress quickly for establishing lasting peace.

“Now the talks between the two neighbours are based on a strong footing,” he said.

Mr Elahi said that both federal and provincial governments were all supportive of relaxing visa restrictions and improving bilateral relations and trade. “Our President has taken some bold steps and we hope that India would also respond positively.”

He said that he foresees no problem in allowing Sikh jathas to visit all gurdwaras. “We have nothing to hide. I have already announced to make Nankana Sahib a modern city. The road from Wagah to Nankana Sahib would be widened. We have no problem for running the bus from Amritsar to Nankana Sahib.

“Both Pakistan and Punjab Governments were open for promoting tourism. We will remove all impediments,” he said in response to a suggestion that both Punjabs should encourage general and medical tourism. He also appreciated the idea for joint trade and industry expos.

“Bilateral trade must improve for a win win situation for both Punjabs,” he said, revealing that at present the bilateral trade was slightly tilted in favour of India. Out of 300 million dollars bilateral trade, Pakistan was exporting goods to India worth about $ 100 million. “There has to be a balance of trade also,” said Mr Elahi, hoping that this bilateral trade could go up to 1000 million dollars.

He said that Pakistan was keen to attract investments in software, telecommunications, information technology, biotechnology, light engineering, foundry, precision instruments and petrochemicals, besides a few others.

While promoting trade, both Pakistan and india have to take measures for safeguarding their industry. “Governments alone cannot solve the problem of unemployment. It is industry which has to step in and generate employment,” said Mr Elahi.

Earlier, the Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, said that since the two Punjabs have a common culture, language and background, there was a tremendous potential for improving bilateral trade.

“Why should you look for wheat from Russia when we can meet your requirement both for wheat and rice,” he said. Capt Amarinder Singh also emphasised the need for joint research in the field of agriculture and diversification.

He said Punjab had proposed to the Centre a compensation plan by which farmers would be discouraged from cultivating rice and wheat and instead encouraged to go for diversification by offering them compensation for the transit period.

Industry in Punjab was growing as all efforts were being made to ensure uninterrupted power supply. “We have the infrastructure and expect an investment of R 10000 crore in the sector,” he said

Earlier, Mr Rakesh Bharti, Chairman, Northern Region, CII, in his address of welcome talked about how cordial bilateral relations could usher in an era of growth for industry and trade, besides opening new vistas in culture, sports and education.

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