Apr 19, 2012 at 05:33pm IST

World View: Will Indo-Pak trade remain hostage to bilateral issues?

Suhasini Haidar: Hello and welcome to Worldview with me Suhasini Haider. We have a packed show tonight, we're discussing India-Pakistan ties, can they put trade instead of terror, commerce instead of Kashmir on the front burner. We'll hear from Imran Khan, the opposition leader there in Islamabad. Also visiting Delhi, Zafar Mahmood, he's the Pakistani Commerce Secretary, we'll be able to speak with him. Later in the show we have an exclusive interview with former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Remember she is the first Sri Lankan leader to visit India after the UN Human Rights Council vote. She tells us what she thinks of India's vote; also whether she can ever forgive the LTTE.

But first, dramatic days for India Pakistan business ties. In fact the largest ever business contingent is in India from Pakistan. Even as the two sides kick off a slew of initiatives to boost trade, something President Zardari pushed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his lunch with him this Sunday. But can the two countries really move on from their core issues.

It's a cross border invasion that's being welcomed. More than 600 Pakistani businessmen are part of the biggest ever trade show by Pakistan in India. As leaders on both sides say its time to put trade instead of terror, commerce instead of Kashmir on the centre stage for ties.

This weekend a new integrated checkpost will be opened at the Wagah-Attari land crossing, with arrangements for at least 10 times the current 150 trucks a day to be cleared. Pakistan is now moving towards granting India the MFN status, moving from a positive list to a negative list that means India can export everything except 1200 items. And in May the two Commerce secretaries will sign on a liberalised visa policy to ease movement for businessmen.

Tariq Puri: Projections are very optimistic, and we see that its going to go beyond even $10 billion. We are looking forward to a very positive and a very productive and a mutually beneficial trading relationship.

That figure could grow further if Pakistan becomes a transit route for India-Afghanistan trade as well. At his lunch meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Pakistan's President Zardari asked if India and China could set border issues aside and grow trade to up to a $100 billion dollars, why can't India and Pakistan. But even as Zardari was planning his visit, terror had already overshadowed it. Last week's announcement by the US of a reward for help for capturing 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed remained the focus. Prime Minister Manhoman Singh made it clear; a significant trust deficit on terror can't lead to a surplus on trade.

Leela Ponappa: You cannot on the one hand let Hafiz Saeed roam the streets of Pakistan spewing his venom, in the manner that he is doing, and then say that we want peace.

Back home Zardari received criticism for his visit.

Imran Khan: As far as a photo opportunity goes, I think that's about all the meeting achieved, because Zardari just does not have the credibility. You know, if you want to make inroads into Indo-Pak relationship and improve them, you really need to have a sort of leadership that can carry the whole country.

With India sticking to its stand on terror and the fragile nature of Pakistani politics, is it possible to put trade on a separate track or will trade always be hostage to other bilateral issues between India and Pakistan.

Suhasini Haidar: We're going to try and get the Pakistani perspective on that question now earlier we spoke to Imran Khan, the President of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and member of the Opposition about the Zardari visit, also the possibility of taking trade forward while pursuing bilateral issues on a separate track. Here's what he said,

Imran Khan: Well, do you know, talks are fine. I'm all for dialogue, I'm all for the subcontinent having peace. But, in this particular case, was there any attempt to build a consensus in Pakistan about what this meeting was supposed to achieve. Is he carrying the people with him, is he even carrying his own party with him, and then about Bilawal Bhutto, my whole point is, is this some sort of a monarchy, is this some royal family that is touring.

We have to have a completely new relationship with India. That relationship must be...it's a holistic relationship, which involves everything - trade, the way we deal with Kashmir, and of agencies operating in each other's countries.

And our government blames India for it. Similarly, you blame Hafiz Saeed or other groups operating inside India. I think and I have said this before, time has come for a new relationship.

If you put the Kashmir issue on the back burner, you will always have a problem of a Mumbai type attack and you will go back to square one because I thought that during Musharraf's time there was a lot of progress, confidence building measures, things were moving ahead and look what happened after Mumbai. Kashmir is an issue which two leaderships will have to sit down, make a road map, talk about Kashmir, how are you going to resolve it, involve parties, talk, dialogue. Nothing is impossible.

Suhasini Haidar: All right, that's the opposition view there in Pakistan, let's bring in Zafar Mahmood, he is the Pakistani Commerce secretary. He joins us from New Delhi, where he has been inaugurating that big Lifestyle Pakistan trade fair. And Mr. Mehmood, we're hearing voices of skepticism on both sides. In India, most people saying that they really can't move on from India's terror concerns, from concerns over people like Hafiz Saeed. Can trade really move on a separate track from the big bilateral issues, like Mr. Imran Khan was objecting to?

Zafar Mahmood: Pakistan-India started this composite dialogue and four rounds were held last time. This was probably 2006 and 7, and then Mumbai incident happened and everything stopped. This time it is the many tracks which are operating at the same time. Trade track is going faster than other, in fact if there has been a progress that is in the trade track. Now my area of concern obviously and the political leadership in Pakistan's area of concern is that there should also be simultaneous progress on other sides. We are very hopeful because through normalisation of trade process, we have created the right atmosphere in which the progress of other tracks now looks possible.

Suhasini Haidar: Ok it certainly sounds like an exciting time right now, but give us a sense of what you think is the potential for this trade. After all, just for a reality check, right now India-Pakistani bilateral trade at about 3 point something billion dollars. India accounts for 3% of Pakistan's trade, Pakistan accounts for just half a percent of India's trade. What is the potential there?

Zafar Mahmood: I think once we completely normalise the trade process, which I hope would be by the end of this year, then the real fruits would start coming and trade volume would increase much faster than you can imagine. Many people have tried to estimate what could possibly be... the estimates hover around $6 billion to $10 billion within two years.

Suhasini Haidar: But, Mr. Mahmood we heard there from Mr. Imran Khan, there's criticism from across the political opposition there in Pakistan. So the question is really, how do you weather-proof this process, how do you ensure that business ties don't get snapped as they have in the past whenever there is a break in ties, whether it was after the Parliament attack, whether it was after the Mumbai attack.

Zafar Mahmood: I have been asked this question in Pakistan on a live TV interview that if something like what happened in Mumbai happens again, what would happen to India-Pakistan relationship and trade is only one component of it. And, my answer was that we are not condemned to live on this snake and ladder board, that one small incident or one big incident can derail the process. Then those people who want to disrupt the process of normalisation, they succeed. So, we have been mentioning in our joint statement, we have been mentioning in our communiques that this process should remain unstoppable and irreversible.

Suhasini Haidar: And give us a sense of what this moment means, because you're here with the largest ever Pakistani trade delegation, 600 businessmen including the richest businessmen of Pakistan in India; there is this integrated checkpost that is being inaugurated, driving up cross border trade really on the land route. What does this moment really mean for India-Pakistan trade, the businessmen you have been traveling with, what do they say?

Zafar Mahmood: There are I think...they are optimist lot, businessmen on both sides. They are the real stakeholders, they are going to find their own ways of doing business, they are dynamic people. They are not restricted like civil servants on both sides; they are not restricted like the security people on both sides. They would find own creative way to cooperate with each other.

Suhasini Haidar: Alright, Zafar Mahmood, Pakistan's Commerce secretary thanks so much for speaking with us.

And here's my take, which is simply this,

That better business ties can only be a symptom of not a reason for better relations between India and Pakistan. Let's remember that each time there has been a break in ties over Kargil, over the Parliament attack or the Mumbai attacks, businessmen have been the first to pull out and the last to recover their ties on both sides of the border. This round certainly seems the most promising yet, as with all things India and Pakistan all fingers are crossed, and with only $3 billion worth of trade between them at present, the only way is up.

Now to our other big story. Sri Lanka announced it would take concerns over the Kudankulum nuclear plant in Tamil Nadu to the IAEA this week. That's seen as a direct retaliation to India's decision to vote against Sri Lanka on human rights at the United Nations. But former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga is striking a different note, calling President Rajapaksa's regime dictatorial and saying Sri Lankans must hear India's voice of concern over the treatment of Tamils. She spoke exclusively to us on Worldview.

Suhasini Haidar: If I could just start by asking you your reaction to the fact that that resolution defeated Sri Lanka, and your reaction to India's vote there.

Chandrika Kumaratunga: It's not good for Sri Lanka, and I personally am very sad that this came to this state of affairs, but I'm rather bewildered why we should have allowed it to come to this, because India, for example, two years ago I believe it was two years or one year,

Suhasini Haidar: That's right 2009

Chandrika Kumaratunga: India supported us fully and even conversed on our behalf so that we won...the resolution was defeated...so something must have happened in between for India to have voted against us.

Suhasini Haidar: Do you think the government has done enough when it comes to not just convincing the world on human rights abuses, but actually working on the ground there in the North and East of Sri Lanka?

Chandrika Kumaratunga: Much more can be done, for reconciliation, for physical reconstruction, its three years since the war ended...

Suhasini Haidar: Do you think India did the right thing?

Chandrika Kumaratunga: India has made its position very clear; I don't want to talk on behalf of India government...

Suhasini Haidar: The only reason I ask you this is because there seems to have been quite a lot of disappointment in Sri Lanka over India's vote, not just from the government but across the commentary we've seen, and one of the ministers today has in fact said that India's vote dealt a killer blow to relations between India and Sri Lanka. Do you think that's the case?

Chandrika Kumaratunga: Well you see, what you see in Sri Lankan press, we have a totally controlled press, if I may say so, may not be what the majority of the Sri Lankan people think. Well this is a publicly known thing that India has been asking for political settlement of the Tamil people's problem. And I have always held this view that ending the war does not bring peace by itself.

Suhasini Haidar: In fact, last year you actually said that President Rajapaksa was leading a divided nation. What really worries you?

Chandrika Kumaratunga: The lack of inclusivity of the Tamil people into the processes of economic development and the political processes. And that is something I have passionately believed in. You can convince people when you control the media and you know keep on hammering one idea, and no other ideas are allowed to be heard. Anybody who suggests any other idea is called a traitor.

Suhasini Haidar: Do you think President Rajapaksa is in fact now a dictator there in Sri Lanka?

Chandrika Kumaratunga: No comments.

Suhasini Haidar: Some would say President Kumaratunga ruled the country for 11 years, and set the stage in fact militarised the country in many ways that set the stage for President Rajapaksa to take over and then eventually to decimate the LTTE.

Chandrika Kumaratunga: I have no problem with the decimation of the LTTE. It was one of the world's most ruthless terrorist organisations. It has not only killed hundreds of thousands of our people, in fact the LTTE is responsible for more Tamil civilian killings than the government of Sri Lanka. They killed your Prime Minister, the Indian Prime Minister. So, decimation of terrorists I have no argument with. Its just the fact that the civilians could have been protected if this was done differently, I have said this and that is when I got accused of being a terrorist.

Suhasini Haidar: What do you think is the way forward when it comes to the North and East? Is reconciliation possible?

Chandrika Kumaratunga: Quite definitely yes. And recently the Tamil National Alliance, which was a restructuring of the Tamil parties coming together and forming one group, and there are former LTTE also in it who have come into the democratic process. They have just made an announcement that they are giving up their call for Elam, for a separate state. This is a marvelous chance. One cannot play around anymore, one has to be sincere, and when I say one, it is the leadership.

Suhasini Haidar: Is that possible for you on a personal note? Have you been able to forgive the LTTE?

Chandrika Kumaratunga: You know, three days after I...there was an attack, a suicide bomb attack on me, killing 26 people and I lost the sight of my right eye and I was badly injured. I called upon the LTTE to lay down arms and come for talks.

Suhasini Haidar: When you speak about reconciliation, there are hundreds and thousands of Tamilians today who have suffered from the excesses of the Sri Lankan army, and certainly of the war against the LTTE, many have talked about torture, do you think its going to be possible for the people in the north and east of Sri Lanka to move on in this process of reconciliation?

Chandrika Kumaratunga: Of course it is, if the government takes the lead. See what happened in South Africa.

Suhasini Haidar: Now up ahead on Worldview, Christiane Amanpour is back on CNN with a new show. She joins us to talk about some of the big international stories, also what her next big ambition is. Stay with us.

Segment 2

Suhasini Haidar: Welcome back to Worldview with me Suhasini Haider. Let's get you some of the week's top stories around the globe.

The guns have gone silent for now in Syria, after the Assad regime agreed to a ceasefire and to stop all military operations on Thursday morning, according to a pledge given to the UN Special envoy Kofi Annan. International observers remain skeptical that this will last. Remember at least 10,000 people have been believed to have died in the past year of violence and the brutal crackdown by the regime.

A 28 nation tsunami alert was lifted, but not before hours of panic across South and South East of Asia this week. An earthquake of 8.6 magnitude struck off the coast of Indonesia on Wednesday and after several aftershocks saw that tsunami warning going out. Remember this was the eighth largest quake since 1900.

And to the US elections, it's all set to be a Romney vs. Obama contest in the US after Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum opted out of the race. It is particularly interesting for India, there's every chance that Romney's running mate could be of Indian origin, as both Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley are front runners.

And talks with Iran this week as the P5 countries plus Germany meet with the Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jilani in Istanbul to try and pressure Iran on nuclear accountability. The talks are being seen as one final hope of avoiding a sharper conflict in the region, with Israel saying, if necessary it could still strike against Iran, if it believes its developing weapons.

And joining us for her Worldview on some of those big stories-CNN's Christiane Amanpour. She's back with her show, Amanpour on CNN. One of the few western journalists to have interviewed both President Ahmedinajad and recently Foreign minister of Iran Larijani. I spoke to her, and began by asking just how worried the world should be about strikes on Iran.

Suhasini Haidar: Yes, Iran is a big focus of what I have been covering and what I will continue to cover. There is a new round of talks, starting between Iran and the so called P5+1, The United States and its allies, to try to figure out a solution to Iran's nuclear program. Iran wants to be able to continue its nuclear program under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the NPT, but the West wants to ensure that the enrichment of uranium is not 20% or over and that there is no military element to this program.

Suhasini Haidar: Christiane if I could also ask you about US-Pakistan relations, there is another round of talks but they are certainly at a tense point, and the question, with all the flip flops we've seen from Pakistan on the issue o tackling terror, is Washington simply giving up?

Christiane Amanpour: Well, it remains obviously a very key relationship between the United States and Pakistan, obviously it's not at the highest level should we say right now, or rather at its highest point, it seems to be a very low point , the relationship between Washington and Pakistan right now.

Suhasini Haidar: And Christiane now that you are back on CNN with the show, the question what's left. Most would say Christiane Amanpour has interviewed practically everyone. Who is it still left on your wish list?

Christiane Amanpour: Well, your leadership for a start. There's many, many people I would like to, I'd love to interview Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and her two children, I'd love to interview the leadership in India and explore more of India, but I'm delighted to be back in this seat and delighted to be continuing my conversation with a global community around the world.

Suhasini Haidar: Thank you. Christiane Amanpour there. We hope to have her back on Worldview as well. That's all we have time for tonight. Do log onto our website ibnlive.com/worldview. There's lots of extra interviews there. From the team here, thanks for watching.