Can the new generation of Sindhi Hindus, whose forefathers had migrated from Karachi to Mumbai, be attracted to invest in the city a la Chinese Diaspora which left China after revolution?
Can the strong connection between the Dawoodi Bohra and Parsee communities of Karachi and Mumbai be converted in to future trade & investment relations?
Can middle class youth of Pakistan be benefited from the world class education institutions in Mumbai or for that matter in India, as they don’t have the means of going to expensive American, Canadian, Australian and British universities?
Can the Pakistani film and TV performing artists and technicians be benefited from high-tech Bollywood & TV?
These were some of the interesting issues discussed by the participants of the seminar, which was organised by SAFMA on 25th April. After doing a round of promoting exchange of views and relations between (West) Punjab-(East) Punjab, South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) has launched an interesting initiative to discuss synergies between Karachi & Mumbai. A delegation comprising Karachiites from different walks of life will be visiting Mumbai in the third week of May. The reciprocal delegation from Mumbai will visit us in mid-June.
There was a consensus among the participants that all this is possible. Let’s briefly take all these areas of cooperation one by one. First, investment by businessmen of both cities in each others city: My contention at the seminar was that China and Taiwan has outstanding disputes as old as Pakistan and India, and still Taiwanese Chinese are major investors in China. (I am glad that this view was also shared by MNA Kunwar Khalid Younus of MQM). So why can’t we attract say for instance Sindhi Hindus, who have lot’s of money and are nostalgic about Karachi and Sindh?
If one visits Lahore and interacts with Punjabi businessmen, leading politicians and bureaucracy it is quite evident that they are prepared for Punjab-Punjab relations in all fields. The old protectionist argument that Indians will destroy Pakistani business is nonsensical and xenophobic in today’s world. If our business can compete with Chinese goods and investors, if they can live with western MNCs, they can also stand up like an adult and face the Indian business. At the same time we can also have access to a market of over one billion people, which has a middle class with spending power twice the size of Pakistan’s total population.
My friend Byram Avari made an important point in this regard. His view was Pakistan-India relations normalisation process can get a fillip if we will take account of the fact that Indian politics is strongly influenced by the corporate India. If they have stakes on both sides, they will push their slow-moving government also. I would only add to this that the countries which have big mutual investment stakes usually don’t go to war against each.
Secondly, a young student from International Relations Department of Karachi University raised the issue of exchange of students between the two countries. I think it is an excellent idea. It would be an affordable opportunity for the students who cannot make it to the western universities. In any case India (thanks to Nehru’s vision) has excellent Indian Institutes of Technology and Management. Today, India, according to a world bank report is the world largest producers of engineers and scientists. And hence the biggest recruiting ground for the western companies.
I am told that at the face of it there is no restriction on going to India for education. EFU Managing Director, Saifuddin Zoomkawala, told me after the seminar that they are already working on sending students to the Indian Institute of Insurance (III). But my worry is that without both governments’ blessings to the exchange of students, their degrees may not be accepted by respective governments. And the returning students may be hounded by the intelligence agencies on both sides of the border. We have seen this happening to the students who got their degrees from Russia.
Thirdly, famous singer Tina Sani and actor Sajid Hassan feel that while Pakistani TV channels have started showing Indian plays and artists, the Indian channels are not showing our artists and plays. I hope such issues would be taken up by the SAFMA Karachi-Mumbai delegation in the coming meetings. Pakistani singers and artists who have been used by Bollywood, I am told were paid many hundred times more than they are paid in their own country. (Income Tax officers please don’t use this against them).
But the issue is that all this seems to be a distant dream. People-to-people contact would only be increased if visa consulates are opened in Karachi and Mumbai. Till the diplomatic reciprocal niceties are settled which indeed are of a bigger concern for both the governments than citizens inconvenience, I would suggest that they should have visiting visa officers who can descend from Islamabad and Delhi to Karachi and Mumbai every week for three to four days and issue the visas.
Before I end let me give you the good news. After talking about promoting Pakistan image for many years, it seems that the government has started doing something right on this front. By the time this column is printed some of you would have seen a series on Pakistan economy by BBC Business Asia. When I asked Sharanjit Leyl and Malcolm Borthwick, who came down from Singapore to cover Pakistan economic story, why now? Sharanjit said that Pakistan’s High Commissioner in Singapore Sajjad Ashraf and Mehreen Khan, who is part of the Prime Ministers’ media team, actually persuaded them to come to Pakistan and look at some success stories like banking reforms and privatisation.
I have always been of the view that Pakistan should focus on promoting its business image. A few months after taking over as Finance Minister, Mr. Shaukat Aziz had asked me what to do about promoting Pakistan’s image abroad. My view was that he should focus on projecting the business image, as burden of political baggage was too heavy and was out of his domain. At that point our political luggage mainly contained burden of strained relations with India, nuclear explosion, military government and support to Taliban.
Mr. Shaukat Aziz has moved up to the position of Prime Minister, political luggage is still heavy only some contents have changed to armed struggle in Balochistan and Waziristan, rise in terrorist attacks in the country, sharpening political divide and rise of religiosity. But Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is a lucky man; President Musharraf is still shouldering this burden. So stick to the business image Mr. Prime Minister. Good luck!