‘Working for poor, India and Pakistan can create Asian century’ (Interview)

June 26th, 2008 - 2:51 pm ICT by IANS  

By Manish Chand
New Delhi, June 26 (IANS) India and Pakistan can script an Asian century if they scale up their economic ties and collaborate for uplifting millions of poor in their countries, says Salman Faruqui, deputy chairman of Pakistan’s Planning Commission. “If India and Pakistan can enhance trade and economic relations, it will spur the emergence of an Asian century,” Faruqui, who is visiting India to learn from its developmental experience, told IANS in an exclusive interview here.

“We have a larger vision of regional economic integration. We hope that SAARC (the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) becomes a major force in the world,” the India-born Faruqui said, while underlining the new mood of optimism among the four-month-old civilian leadership in Pakistan about improving ties with India.

“It is about time India and Pakistan made progress in every field so that we can jointly plan a better future for our people, especially the poor,” Faruqui, a senior bureaucrat who enjoys the status of a federal minister in Pakistan’s cabinet, stressed.

Born in the pre-partition India - his father was from Patiala, his mother was from Chennai and his wife belongs to Kolkata - the suave soft-spoken bureaucrat exuded confidence about a new partnership of pro-poor development between the two countries by shedding decades of distrust and learning from each other’s experience.

“It is in our interest to pursue friendly relations. Many things we are doing are similar and many mistakes we have made are almost similar. We believe there is so much we have in common and so much to learn from each other,” he maintained.

Focusing on real issues that affect the destinies of millions of people in the region, Faruqui cited power, agriculture, pro-poor policies and e-governance, as also the Metro Rail, as key areas in which businessmen, policy-makers and experts from both countries can synergise their resources and expertise.

Glowing with admiration after a ride on the Delhi Metro, Faruqui said this was the way to go.

“Why go to Tokyo when we can come here and learn so much from the success of the Delhi Metro?” he asked, while disclosing plans to build the Metro in Karachi and Lahore.

“We can also collaborate in agricultural research and for the development of high-yield seeds,” he added.

Likewise, energy security is another promising area of “win-win cooperation.”

“Pakistan has large reserves of coal in the Thar region, but most of it has not been adequately utilized. We can learn from Indian experience in handling mega power projects so that we can harness coal for producing electricity,” he said.

“There are plenty of economic opportunities. We have to liberalize the visa system. Interaction is very important. Businessmen should be given visas for at least 2-5 years,” he contended.

“We have to be open-minded. We are two normal countries trying to conduct trade. Bilateral trade is very small and far below what should be between nearly 1.4 billion people of two important countries,” he said ahead of the visit of Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi to India Friday.

In his enthusiasm, Faruqui made it a point to stress that the uplift of the poor and the deprived should be at the heart of this new partnership of development between the two countries.

He cited a slew of measures initiated by the Pakistan government like the Benazir Income Support Card (BISC), under which every beneficiary (one household) would get Rs.1,000 a month, apart from employment, skill development, food subsidy and medical insurance.

This is meant to cushion the poor against soaring inflation, he proudly said, hinting Indian planners could think of more innovative steps. Likewise, Pakistan can learn from India’s rural job guarantee scheme.

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