• Thursday, July 25, 2024

Business

Pakistan business leaders urge PM Sharif to begin trade talks with India

Shehbaz Sharif’s resolve to improve Pakistan’s economy was met with apprehensions from industry leaders who said it was “almost impossible” to do business under the current circumstances the country is in.

Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif (L) (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images) and Indian PM Narendra Modi (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

BUSINESS leaders in Pakistan have urged the country’s prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, to initiate trade talks with India to promote business and commerce, saying it would greatly benefit the economy of the cash-strapped nation.

Posing tough questions during an hour-long meeting at Sindh CM House in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital, the city’s business community appreciated Sharif’s determination to tackle the country’s economic challenges but also advised him to focus on bringing about political stability to “turn around” the economy.

The 72-year-old Sharif, who took over as the prime minister in March for the second time after elections in February, 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.

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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 premier 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 the former state of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcating it 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.

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 Shehbaz initiate talks with imprisoned former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf founding chairman Imran Khan — apparently for political stability.

Sharif, 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,” Sharif said.

(With PTI inputs)

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