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Reform twins at top, focus on business

New Delhi, Aug. 28: Drawing strength from their common economics background, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today sought close cooperation from his new Pakistani counterpart Shaukat Aziz to build strong economic and trade ties.

Reaffirming his government’s commitment to peace and normal relations with Pakistan, Singh made it clear that strong bilateral relations could only be possible when the ties were free from an atmosphere of violence and terror.

The Prime Minister made these points in a letter he wrote to Aziz, who has replaced Chaudhury Shujat Hussain as Prime Minister.

Like Singh, Aziz is credited with turning around the economic fortunes of Pakistan. A former Citibank executive, Aziz is a trusted ally of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.

Aziz holds Singh in high esteem for setting India on the path of economic liberalisation, and Indian officials hope that the coincidence of economic reformers assuming top offices in both countries would give a boost to bilateral relations.

Singh’s letter to Aziz was closely followed by an announcement in Pakistan that suggested a positive impact of peace on bilateral trade.

Figures released by Pakistani officials indicated that Indo-Pak trade registered more than 100 per cent increase at $476 million in 2003-04 over the previous year.

While extending his “warm felicitations” to Aziz, Singh said: “I would like to reaffirm my government’s commitment to strengthen friendship and cooperation with Pakistan. In the recent past, our people have once again shown their strong desire for peace and harmony between our two countries and to have the opportunity for good neighbourly and cooperative relations.”

Singh added: “It is my sincere hope that we can build upon recent positive developments and take forward the process of dialogue in an atmosphere free from terrorism and violence.”

The Indian Prime Minister made it clear where his emphasis lay and which area could help in bringing the two hostile neighbours closer.

“I attach great importance to trade and economic ties between India and Pakistan and look forward to your cooperation in addressing the common challenges of poverty alleviation in our region, so that our people can look forward to a future free of want.”

Singh’s comments gather significance as they come barely a week before the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Delhi to review the ongoing peace process.

At a meeting of the cabinet committee on security yesterday chaired by the Prime Minister, it was agreed that Delhi would make it clear to Pakistan that while it was committed to peace with Islamabad, it would like the neighbour to take some urgent steps to check infiltration, which has been on the rise in recent months.

Singh’s letter also indicated that Delhi would like Pakistan to follow the Sino-Indian model.

India and China have decided to keep aside the most contentious issue — the boundary dispute — while trying to build closer and stronger economic and trade ties to improve the overall bilateral relations.

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