x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Trade is the way to peace for India and Pakistan

'Lifestyle Pakistan' in New Delhi, a collaboration between the trade authorities of India and Pakistan, is the latest on a broader attempt by the two nations to trade their way to peace.

Exhibitors from Pakistan prepare their stall of clothing at the Lifestyle Pakistan Exhibition in New Delhi last week. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Exhibitors from Pakistan prepare their stall of clothing at the Lifestyle Pakistan Exhibition in New Delhi last week. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI // "I am what you call a seasoned shopper and I like what I see," said Parveen Khan, 63, as she moved from one stall to another at a vast trade exhibition showcasing Pakistani produce in India's capital last week.

"No one else in India will have what I have in my wardrobe, and I can say these pieces are from Pakistan," said Mrs Khan, a housewife from Delhi, after deciding to purchase two long salwar tops from a stall run by a fashion house based in the east Pakistani city of Lahore.

For the thousands of curious Indians attending "Lifestyle Pakistan" in New Delhi over four days at the Pragati Maidan Exhibition Centre it was a chance to buy something special. Something that decades of hostile relations since partition in 1947 have prevented them from doing. For decades it was almost impossible to cross the border, even to visit family.

But the intentions of the exhibition's organisers run far deeper. The event, a collaboration between the trade authorities of India and Pakistan, is the latest on a broader attempt by the two nations to trade their way to peace.

They hope economic activity between the countries will jump-start peace talks, which have been at a standstill since breaking down after the 2008 gun and bomb attack on Mumbai that killed 174 people.

"Terrorism should not take business hostage," Tariq Puri, the head of the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan, said at the opening of the fair.

Despite a combined population of 1.4 billion people and thousands of years of shared history and culture, trade between India and Pakistan is paltry - a legacy of their artificial creation, three wars since their birth in 1947, and religious anomisity.

In September, the two sides pledged to double bilateral trade within three years to about US$6 billion (Dh22bn).

A month later, Pakistan granted India "most favoured nation status", which ended restrictions that required most products to move between the neighbours via a third country.

The Pakistani merchants at the trade fair in New Delhi have already benefited from the liberalised trade rules, moving containers from Pakistan, through the Wagah border, into Amritsar in the Indian Punjab and then to Delhi.

Stocked with clothes, jewellery, furniture and food, the stalls set up at the fair at the Pragati Maidan Exhibition Centre attracted throngs of shoppers.

As women ripped merchandise from their plastic covers and filled their arms with samples from the rack, Sidra Raja, 24, a designer with Nishat Linen, in Lahore, said she never thought to ask Indians what was so attractive about Pakistani fashion.

"Maybe the cuts? The styles are different, maybe that is what they like. I haven't had the time to ask yet. Since we opened we have not had time to sit down," Ms Raja said.

The four-day exhibition, which follows a parallel show of Indian warews in February in Lahore, was opened on Thursday by the Indian commerce minister, Anand Sharma, and his Pakistani counterpart, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who arrived with 600 Pakistani entrepreneurs.

A day later, the ministers were attending a ceremony at the Wagah border crossing to open a trade post. Mr Sharma said India would allow foreign direct investment from Pakistan, lifting barriers to trade and investment.

The showcase of Pakistani goods in Delhi also comes just days after Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, became the first head of state from his country to visit India in seven years.

At the trade fair on Friday, Salman Javed, a furniture maker from Karachi, was selling one-of-a-kind pieces, which he had spent two months designing. Among his collection was a chess table whose legs transformed into benches. All the pieces were made of shisham, an Indian rosewood.

"There is dialogue happening between the two countries and that was in the back of our minds. We used that to create this collection," said Mr Javed, explaining why he and his colleagues from the Coalesce Design Studio, a collective of young architects, graphic designers and interior designers, had used that specific timber.

"We have in this process, learnt a lot about trade. This was our first experience bringing stuff to India. We hope we can do it again."

For some Indians, the event was an opportunity to see a culture they have learnt about second hand. Saksi Pandey, 31, from New Delhi, was thrilled when she heard that Junaid Jamshed would have a booth at the show. But her excitement was not for his line of traditional clothing.

Mr Jamshed was the lead singer in the 1980s band Vital Signs. The group topped the charts with their patriotic hit 'Dil Dil Pakistan' making Mr Jamshed one of Pakistan's biggest pop sensations. Eight years ago, he renounced pop music for religion.

Ms Pandey said she had heard Mr Jamshed's songs in the way most Indians and Pakistanis are used to enjoyin each others music and movies - through bootlegged videos and tapes.

"I have always been a big fan and I knew he had started a clothing line," said Ms Pandey. "I have come to check out the clothes, but also maybe I will see him."

Mr Jamshed's arrival was yet to be confirmed, said Bilal Akram, the manager of the booth.

"We are surprised at how many people in India know his name. If they like our things then we get a chance to get to know them better and they get a chance to know us too," said Mr Akram.

Sheila Lal, 72, from New Delhi, was more interested in the food. She said she could still remember the meals she shared with her neighbours before they moved to Pakistan during the partition in 1947.

"You from Lahore, boy?" she asked one of the cooks, who meekly replied, "Yes."

"Then make me the softest tandoori roti and the simplest chicken tikka you can."

"These are the memories I have," said Mrs Lal. "My favourite food of my childhood was served by our neighbours until they moved away."



* With additional reporting by Reuters