The business community feels that we will be opening another chapter of prosperity by trading with India. Why should our children suffer because of past mistakes? Let them come out of the clouds of animosity. AZIZ MEMON, CHAIRMAN OF THE KINGS GROUP IN PAKISTAN.

Pakistan business community thinks it will be unlocking a chapter of prosperity by strengthening trade and business ties with India, says Mr Aziz Memon, Chairman of the Kings Group in Pakistan.

Excerpts from the interview:

You have been a great votary of improving Indo-Pak business ties. Do you think we are making progress?

This has been going on for 25 years; SAARC cannot produce desired results till India and Pakistan put right their differences. We don't have a choice and India also, if it has to become an economic giant and take off in this century, it has to remove small obstacles from its path by setting ties right with its neighbouring countries.

At a recent Rotary conference in Ludhiana, I said that history divided us but geography is binding us together; we don't have a choice. And if we look at global figures, the majority of the trade across the world is done with neighbouring countries. I got a standing ovation.

In my last interview to Business Line, I said that our bilateral trade can go from $2 billion to $40 billion; now I'd put the figure at $50 billion. Right now, over $6 billion worth trade is taking place via Singapore and Dubai.

Look at Germany and France. They went to war three times; their political issues have not yet been resolved; but today, they are trading; they have a common currency, passport and are investing in each other's countries.

Our problem is our people are illiterate; the word MFN is being misunderstood and exploited. Your Commerce Minister and Lok Sabha Speaker recently visited Pakistan. Cultural, sports and other exchanges will help us to normalise ties.

But how about your religious ultras, the Difa-e-Pakistan, Taliban…

They are regrouping of some banned jamaats; they don't matter because they are neither in the (National) Assembly nor have a voice. They will keep on shouting, but life has to go on. We would be too glad to go for a referendum on trade with India.

The business community feels that we will be opening another chapter of prosperity by trading with India.

Why should our children suffer because of past mistakes; let them come out of the clouds of animosity. History has been witness to many partitions and disruptions, but we have to come out of it.

Tell us about the state of your economy.

Our economy is doing quite well. Yes, we do have issues; two consecutive years of flooding displaced 22 million people. A small economy such as Pakistan's cannot absorb such shocks. Donors make announcements during such tragedies which they don't fulfil. We have paid such a huge price in the war against terrorism. Today too, our army and air force are fighting against the Taliban groups in the north. So we have to put our minds together on curbing terrorism, which is a common enemy.

Pakistan's main donor/financier/loan giver has turned its head around and so we do face problems. We have a huge power crisis. In 11 years, the Musharraf Government did not increase a single KW of electricity, and now power capacity cannot be built overnight.

But mills are being closed and people being laid off…

Not really. Basically, industries which have modernised are doing well. Those which were running for 40-50 years without any innovation, modernisation or replacement had to shut down. When the media talks of such a mill, to us it is a surprise that it did not close down long ago.

You have problems in Balochistan too.

Balochistan is a different subject; it has its own axe to grind… and they are right, much more needs to be done. But, then, parts of Balochistan are with Iran and Afghanistan and they want to form a greater Balochistan. Now, will Iran and Afghanistan vacate their parts to form a greater Balochistan?

Was the aim of the recent trilateral conference held here between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to send a signal of defiance to the US?

This is not the first trilateral meeting; there are issues which are common between these three neighbouring countries. There is a big Persian settlement in Afghanistan. Karzai himself is not a Pashtun, but a Persian…Pashtuns want to form a state of their own. As for the US, we had told them that if they could help us solve the energy crisis, why should we go for the gas pipeline from Iran. But nothing happened.

I landed in Karachi when MQM leader, Altaf Husain, had called for a huge women's rally. What was its significance?

That was because Imran Khan had said the women of Karachi are with me, they came to my jalsa and will vote for me. But the vote bank of MQM in Karachi is intact. Imran Khan cannot dent it. He will dent the vote bank of not PPP, but PML (Nawaz). But, then, Nawaz Sharif also is a shrewd player. To say he is like your Anna Hazare is incorrect; Imran has put on his bandwagon many corrupt politicians.

Returning to Indo-Pak trade, in which areas do you see a lot of scope?

Pharma, where India has a lot of scope. Ours is a very big market, and your volumes are big and your costs are low. So there can be JVs, plants put up here. In textiles too, there is a lot of scope, as in the hotel and tourism industry, once the visa regime eases. Then, there is the area of refined petroleum products and dyes and chemicals, where there is good scope.

From Pakistan, fresh vegetables go to India already; tomatoes come from India. The Wagah border clearance should be expanded to have a greater movement. The Munabao border should also be opened on the Rajasthan side, both for trade and people movement. And the Indian Consulate should be allowed to be opened in Karachi because people mostly travel from Karachi to India. If there are any hurdles on opening the Pakistan Consulate in Mumbai, your Ministry of External Affairs should move with speed and remove obstacles.

Pakistan is also looking into giving transit trade rights for Afghanistan to India which will be very good for you.

Tell us a little about your group.

Our annual sales total $100 million. We are in textiles; I export a lot of cement to India and do some coal transactions too. We buy organic yarn from India in big quantity.

How real is the threat of fundamentalists taking over Pakistan?

Pakistan is too huge for that to happen; there are different interest groups, both Shia and Sunni, and that can be an advantage also! The agenda of these fundos is that the US should get out of Afghanistan, which America wants anyway.

(This article was published on March 5, 2012)
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