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India, Pak to set up joint business council — Revive commission on economic issues

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The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, with the Pakistan President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, at Hyderabad House in the Capital on Sunday. - Kamal Narang

New Delhi , April 17

TAKING forward the recent improvement in bilateral relations to the area of trade and economic co-operation, India and Pakistan on Sunday announced a number of measures such as revival of the joint commission on economic issues, establishing a joint business council and discussions on the possibility of opening traditional transit routes to boost bilateral and regional trade.

The two sides also agreed to operationalise the rail link between Munnabao in Rajasthan and Khokrapar in Sindh by the end of this year.

On the second day of his visit to the country, the Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf, held wide-ranging discussions with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, at Hyderabad House.

`In right direction'

The meeting lasted for over two hours, well beyond the original schedule.

The Pakistan President later expressed happiness over his talks with Indian leaders, saying these were moving in the "right direction."

Talking to reporters after attending a lunch hosted by the President, Mr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Gen. Musharraf said the talks were held in a "positive atmosphere" and on an "optimistic note."

Rajasthan-Sindh rail link by year-end

He said several issues, including Kashmir, were discussed.

Briefing the media on the talks, India's Foreign Secretary Mr Shyam Saran, said the Indian side had referred to its pledge to make the Rajasthan-Sindh rail link operational by October 2.

Gen. Musharraf indicated that the deadline was not feasible and it could be made operational by December this year.

During the talks, that ranged from increasing people-to-people contact to enhancing trade ties, it was agreed that the joint commission between India and Pakistan - which has not met since 1989 - should be revived and meet at an early date.

"This is the umbrella under which economic and trade issues can be taken forward in a focussed manner," Mr Saran said.

India and Pakistan have also decided to intensify the work to set up a joint business council for the private sector.

Mr Saran said the Pakistani side had complained that there were "obstacles" such as non-tariff barriers in the way of trade. India, on its part, is prepared to examine these barriers and remove them, he added. The two sides discussed the possibilities of improving transport linkages and infrastructure.

The Prime Minister pointed out that, at a time when other parts of the world were witnessing improved economic prospects, as a result of the coming together of various countries, India and Pakistan could join hands to play a greater role in transforming the economic prospects of the South Asian region.

Responding positively to this statement, Gen. Musharraf elaborated on his vision of the two countries sharing energy for improving the livelihood of their people and for common prosperity.

Agreeing that the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline was "worthwhile" to pursue, the two sides decided to remain in touch and engage in further discussions to realise this project, Mr Saran said.

MFN status

Meanwhile, Pakistan indicated that it may move forward towards giving Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India. The Commerce Minister, Mr Kamal Nath, after a 40 minute meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Humayun Akhtar Khan, told reporters that a Joint Study Group looking into the issue of giving MFN status to India would meet in June to discuss the matter.

Mr Nath also said New Delhi has agreed to lift any "perceived" non-tariff barriers coming in the way of Pakistani trade to India.

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