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Trading for a peace dividend

May 8, 2012

That’s the thrust of the front page lead and a full inside page coverage of the economic conference hosted by the ‘The Times of India- Jang newspaper group Aman ki Asha in Lahore, Pakistan on May 7 and 8, 2012.

But are better trade relations and the strengthening of economic ties a sure-fire way to build peace in the sub-continent? Obviously, that’s not an easy question to answer.

The Aman ki Asha project of the two media groups – both the strongest in their countries, seemed such a contradiction in terms when it was launched in January 2010. The sabre-rattling of the Times Now after the November 26, 2008 attack on Mumbai was still fresh in everyone’s minds and the Jang group was also not exactly dove-ish in its coverage of its neighbour.

The initiative, spelt out in the FAQs on its website, managed by the Jang group, takes pains to point out that both groups shall not water down the editorial policies of the two groups.

Nevertheless, the two groups came together and hosted several cultural events, all of which recieved ample publicity in their respective media networks. So, after all the ghazal events, the sufi music programmes and the tentative discussions on screening Bollywood films in Pakistan, cricket seems the next stumbling block…Typically, today’s coverage in The Times of India hopefully poses the question: Will India, Pakistan resume cricket ties?’, blissfully forgetting the “Pakraman’ coverage the Indo-Pak cricket matches have elicited in the past. But, with such a lot of hope in the air, let’s not go there….

So the 45 CEOs discussed visa issues and talked of better cooperation in trade, the potential for which is estimated at least $12 billion (from the present $2.7 billion – according to the TOI report). They discussed how India and Pakistan can function as a single economy under Art 24 of the GATT, the problems in moving ahead on trade despite according Pakistan the most Favoured Nation status and how the ‘informal’ trade between the two countries must be legalised.

Bugbears were reduced to code. The ‘K’ word made only one item in the sidelights to the conference, only to state that it wasn’t mentioned by anyone present and that the economic track could, finally, run independently of the political one!

Alas! if only it were that simple. You simply can’t take the political out of the peace process.

Perhaps only when that happens, will the dots on this initiative connect.

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