December 14, 2004, Daily Times

By Shahid Husain

KARACHI: Indian columnist Pradeep S Mehta said on Monday that India and Pakistan needed to collaborate with each other to combat poverty and terrorism.

Delivering a lecture under the auspices of the NGO Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), Mr Mehta, who is the founding secretary general of the Jaipur-based Consumers Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), said it was high time the two countries’ visa restrictions against each other’s citizens were relaxed. “I have been to Islamabad thrice, but this is the first time that I have been able to visit Karachi and that too after the intervention of the Commerce Minister (Humaiyon Akhtar Khan),” he remarked.

He said India, the world’s largest democracy, was “very pluralistic,” with the second-largest Muslim population in the world.

He also said it was in the interest of India to be surrounded by countries which were prospering economically. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee even spoke of a single currency for the two countries, he said.

He said Nepalese and Bhutanese currencies were tied with the Indian rupee because the two countries’ economies were very weak, but of course Pakistan was a different case. He said today the trade between Pakistan and India was worth $600 million, whereas informal trade between the two countries was worth $1.5 billion.

He said the vested interests in every country want conflicts to continue. He said fundamentalists on either side of the divide were opposed to progress. He said the sentiment in Pakistan was that there should be trade between the two countries since Pakistani consumers pay higher prices for certain commodities which could be imported at cheaper rates from India.

Cultural contacts between the two countries also need to be improved, and there is hardly any cultural difference between India and Pakistan, he said. Mr Mehta, who serves on several policy-making bodies of the Indian government, said the disharmony between the two countries in the last 58 years was not in the economic interest of either of them, and there was no sense in consumers of the two countries suffering because of the political disputes.

He said there has been a water dispute between Bangladesh and India over the Farruka Barrage but that did not hamper economic cooperation between them. “If we take the example of ASEAN, Malaysia and Thailand could have a border problem but that did not come in the way of economic cooperation between them,” he said.

He said the United States had a deficit with all the countries it trades with, but its economy does not suffer. “When the consumer gains, the economy gains,” he remarked.

He said in the European Union, there were differences between France and Spain but that did not affect their economic cooperation. “Regional economic cooperation is better than global cooperation,” he remarked.

He said it required progressive thinking to conclude that some disputes will not be resolved soon.

He said Pakistan would have an annual income of $500 million from Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. “We were harming ourselves by hesitating to boost economic cooperation,” he said.

He said three years ago the trade volume between India and China, with which his country has a border dispute, was worth $3 billion; today, it was worth $10 billion.

Similarly, he added, the trade volume between Pakistan and India could also reach $10 billion despite their disputes.