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Ms Poonam Barua (India)

4 Civil society and conflict resolution

Khorakiwala | Khaled Ahmed | Poonam Barua | Haroon Ahmed | Navnita Chedha Behera | Kaiser Bengali Rainer Adams | DISCUSSION | SESSION CONTENTS | HOME


Greater public information and knowledge are contributing to the pressures for the government to perform on both sides. The people of India and Pakistan are becoming overwhelmingly aware of the social opportunities and economic development in other countries and the complete lack of it or slow driving of it in their own countries.

Policy making and internal discourse on foreign policy matters has traditionally been the domain of civil bureaucracy and politicians and to some extent the military in Pakistan.

Ms. Poonam Barua elaborated on the critical role that the business community can play in the India/Pakistan peace resolution process along with the other elements such as civil society, media etc. "The media and Civil society has only been tangentially related so far to this process, if at all, and the business community as an influential component in this process i.e. foreign policy strategy, is only evolving now. Unfortunately a bit too late and yet to be recognised in the sub-continent as a key driver of strategy and decision making."

The two major influences that are causing the business community and others to assume a more active role, in her view, are:

  1. Media explosion and the consequent softening of the barriers of communication.
  2. Forces of liberalisation and globalisation that is forcing the business community and civil society into seeking a larger leadership role in the democratic process as well as the foreign policy process.

These have also altered the context in which the civil society in both the countries view their mutual relations.

Due to this greater public information and knowledge influx, the speaker thinks that not only the government on both sides is under greater pressure to perform better but the people of both countries have also become more aware of their social and economic rights. The media has exposed them to the heady economic successes of other South Asian countries which has brought to light the rampant corruption and failure of their own governments and institutions. Both countries can take advantage of this greater awareness. "Together with the improved information density and rising public aspirations, I think, both countries are on the verge of a very, very unique opportunity, which they must take to improve the India/Pakistan relations.’

In recent meetings and rounds of discussions between the business delegations of both the countries, a very clear and progressive vision has emerged. "Business community needs to take on a very large role in creating a public awareness for improving bilateral relations on both sides." The contentious issues, however, remain and need to be effectively dealt with. She recognised them as follows:

  1. The provision of subsidies by India.
  2. Pakistan denying the status of "Most Favoured Nation" (MFN) to India.
  3. Outdated shipping contracts between Bombay and Karachi that need to be revised.
  4. Land routes between the two countries that need to be opened up so that the trade could be carried out freely.

She also hailed the efforts of the Chambers of Commerce and Industry of both the countries in assuming leadership roles in the peace resolution process. On this occasion, she quoted the chairman of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry "I call to the business leadership to helping in create a public opinion to improve the relations on both the sides. She also quoted the President of the Indian business delegation, Mr. Vanai Kumar, who said,"The business community can play a key role in shifting the paradigm between business and politics." She also mentioned the extremely unilateral offer that the President of the Indian delegation made to the Chamber of Lahore Commerce and Industry of opening an export office in the premises of the PHT Chamber of commerce, New Delhi.

Lastly, she made key resolutions of areas, which she thinks, should be receiving greater attention for involving the business community, in a broader way, and the civil society, in a much more specific manner, for the conflict resolution process.

  1. The people to people contact. There is no substitute for it and therefore the exchange and involvement of people on both sides should be increased.
  2. Information-sharing. The internet and other modes of technology should be used more adequately to supplement the exchange of vital information and statistics.
  3. Sharing of ideas. Exchange of views between the different channels in conflict resolution. i.e. The NGOs, the business community, security, politics and academicians should work together rather than in isolation.
  4. Bi-lateral trade. Inter-SAARC trade is 3% and Indo-Pak trade is only 1% of this. Trade between the two countries should be increased not only to improve relations but also to alleviate the massive poverty prevalent in both the countries. Trade can also be enhanced by removing all artificial trade barriers such as visa regulations, tariff and non-tariff trade barriers, subsidies etc.
  5. Sharing of information on human resource development for e.g. by exchange of faculty between Lahore School of Management Sciences (LUMS) and Lucknow school of Management.

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