As US-Pakistan relations continue to focus on difficult and controversial security negotiations, a path to more productive relations was laid out by Pakistan’s Finance Minister, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, at the Atlantic Council on Monday. To build a foundation of trust and cooperation relations should be founded in an interest both countries share – improving the economy.
Speaking to a packed room of academics, policy experts and government officials, Dr. Hafeez Shaikh noted that for the first time in decades, Pakistan’s civilian institutions are beginning to operate in an autonomous, independent manner. While there are still reforms and improvements needed, much has improved – courts are functioning independently, coalition and opposition parties are engaged in dialogue and consensus building, and President Zardari has voluntarily ceded powers accumulated under past rulers making parliament supreme in its position to decide policy.
As the discussion turned to the impact of international relations on economic growth, Dr. Hafeez Shaikh said that it is imperative for Pakistan to improve its economic ties with other countries as these can serve as the bedrock of strong and lasting international relations. Governments come and go, he observed, but economic relations are evergreen.
While US lawmakers debate whether aid to Pakistan is an effective tool, they should look at how India is changing the paradigm in Indo-Pak relations by liberalizing trade and normalizing business relations between the two rivals.
Commerce ministers from both countries met in New Delhi on Wednesday and decided to liberalise terms for issuing business visas soon by allowing multiple entry to more than one city. The two also decided to work on allowing investments from each other’s countries and encouraging joint ventures. “We engaged in a frank, open and constructive manner and our discussions will define the future roadmap of our engagement,” commerce minister Anand Sharma told reporters after the bilateral meeting, adding that the visit of a commerce minister from Pakistan after 35 years reaffirmed growing understanding between the two countries.
Since transitioning to democracy in 2008, Pakistan’s civilian leadership has consistently repeated that “trade, not aid” is key to growing Pakistan’s economy. It could be the key to stabilizing US-Pakistan relations as well.