Pakistan seems to have started a damage control exercise after creating uneasy diplomatic situation during the recent visit of Sikh devotees to Gurdwara Punja Sahib near Rawalpindi. Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood has paid a visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar and travelled to Chandigarh where he met Chief Ministers of Punjab and Haryana separately.
Dawn, quoting a statement issued by the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi on Friday, reports that Mahmood paid an official visit to Haryana and Punjab from April 23 to 25, and had broad-ranging interaction with state dignitaries, academics, businessmen and representatives of the media.
During his meetings with Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amrinder Singh and Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, Mahmood underscored the importance of people-to-people contact and the unity of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), of which India is the largest member.
While in Chandigarh, the high commissioner called on Haryana’s Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar.
Mr Mahmood had extended exchange of views with Capt Amarinder Singh, during the luncheon meeting at the chief minister’s official residence.
Moreover Pakistan’s High Commissioner also met Dr. Arun K Grover, the Vice Chancellor of Punjab University in Chandigarh where a group of students also joined in the discussions. He also visited The Tribune office in Chandigarh. The daily was first established in Lahore over 130 years ago.
The report says that during these interactions, views were exchanged on several aspects of bilateral relations, including the need for reducing tensions on the Line of Control, implementing confidence-building measures, reviving the structured dialogue process, peacefully resolving outstanding disputes and taking steps to promote socio-economic development at the regional level through SAARC.
The statement issued by Pakistan High Commission further said that the role of people-to-people contacts — in particular media, academia, sports and the youth — in changing perceptions and creating conducive environment for sustainable peace and stability was also highlighted.
In Amritsar, Mr Mahmood had interaction with members of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and businessmen engaged with trade between the two countries.
In these discussions, among other things, the role of visa facilitation for Pakistani businessmen and the need for revival of relevant business and governmental mechanisms for addressing trade-related problems and issues was emphasised.
The envoy underlined the importance of early repatriation of Pakistani prisoners who have completed their sentences.
According to statistics available with Ministry of External Affairs, bilateral trade in 2013-14 touched a peak of US$ 2.7 billion. However, it was marginally dropped to $ 2.35billion in 2014-15. The bilateral trade showed a slight increase in 2015-16 to US$ 2.61 billion.
Bilateral trade between India and Pakistan had slightly dropped in 2016- 17 to US$ 2.28 billion, with India’s exports at $1.83 billion and imports at $456.33 million from Pakistan. The items India exports to Pakistan include- cotton, organic chemicals, machinery, food products including prepared animal fodder, vegetables, plastic articles, man-made filament, coffee, tea and spices, dyes and oil seeds.
The items India imports from Pakistan include: copper and copper articles, fruits and nuts, cotton, salt, sulphur and earths and stones, organic chemicals, mineral fuels, rubber plastic products and wool.
The visit of Pakistan High Commissioner to Punjab and Haryana was neither promptly covered by Indian national media nor the government of India has made any observations public on the visit. However, most of the Pakistani media network carried the related stories on Saturday.