Backdoor diplomacy with
India ongoing, may
bear fruit: Mian Mansha

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LAHORE: Pakistan’s leading businessman Mian Muhammad Mansha claims that backchannels are working between Pakistan and India that will hopefully yield good results.

“If things improve between the two neighbours, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could visit Pakistan in a month,” the chairman of Nishat Group told a gathering of businessmen at the Lahore Chambers of Commerce and Industry on Wednesday.

He advised the two countries to resolve their disputes and start trade to fight poverty in the region. “If the economy does not improve, the country may face disastrous consequences. Pakistan should improve trade relations with India and take a regional approach to economic development. Europe fought two great wars, but ultimately settled for peace and regional development. There is no permanent enmity.”

LAHORE: Leading businessman Mian Muhammad Mansha (second from rights) during his visit to the Lahore Chambers of Commerce and Industry on Wednesday.

Mian Mansha said that there should be “no permanent enemies” with the two arch rivals to work to resolve their differences. He further insisted that the two countries need to resolve their issues and increase trade.

“Till 1965, 50% to 60% of Pakistan’s trade was with India,” the chairman of Nishat Group told the gathered businesspersons, “We need peace.” He added that India had technology to offer Pakistan, and Pakistan too could offer India many things.

Mansha also claimed that there he was aware of backchannel talks being held between India and Pakistan, which could lead to positive results. “In a month [Indian Prime Minister] Narendra Modi could come here if the two [countries] can get their act together,” he said.

The tycoon also insisted that it was time to do away with the corruption mantra to save the country, adding that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) should be shut down.

Mansha asked why the government hesitated to privatise public enterprises. Political parties, he said, favoured privatisation when in power and opposed it when in opposition.

Trade relations between Pak­istan and India have been suspended since August 2019 when New Delhi revoked the law providing special status or autonomy to occupied Kashmir. There have been reports of backchannel talks last summer between the two economies of the region brokered by a Gulf state. However, the government said the talks were discontinued due to Indian repression of the people of held Kashmir, as well as its refusal to recall its troops from the valley and restore its special status.

On the domestic front, Mian Mansha said “progressive, market-oriented policies” were the key to success. Through price control to capital market operations, reducing trade barriers and minimising state influence on the economy, especially through privatisation and austerity, Pakistan can truly achieve rapid growth.

Privatisation, he added, promotes various sectors of the economy. The telecom sector is an example where privatisation has enabled everyone to gain access to everything from telephone to cheap calls.

“Good deeds of the state should be appreciated. It is good that motorways were built in the country, development work was carried out expeditiously, but the state should focus on the sectors on which billions of rupees are being lost annually,” he suggested.

Mian Mansha said privatisation of airports, along with the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), would boost their efficiency and standards, and the sector would become economical.

The railways, he further said, was a lucrative entity during British rule, but has now become a liability for the state. “One of the reasons for the high electricity cost is state intervention.”

He emphasised the importance of improving relations with countries in the neighbourhood and said one of the reasons for Europe’s development was its softening of borders and promotion of bilateral trade.

He further said that in no other country gas was supplied through pipes and resources wasted on such a large scale. “The system is a burden on the state and major changes are needed in the structure of the bureaucracy,” he added.

Mian Nauman Kabir, the LCCI president, congratulated Mian Mansha on his appointment as chairman of the advisory council of the British Asian Trust in Pakistan.

“We are all witness to your illustrious career, extraordinary achievements as an entrepreneur and one of the most successful businessmen who left a lasting footprint across the country. Be it textiles, cement, banking, insurance, power generation, hospitality, agriculture, dairy or paper products, your group has achieved unmatched success,” he added.

The LCCI president said because of the deep understanding of the stiff challenges confronted by the economy and the nation as a whole, the business community would like to get a perspective as to how Pakistan can emerge as a competitive economy in the region that not only creates job opportunities for its youth through industrialisation, but also earns significant export revenue and foreign direct investment.