Benazirs Death Casts a Long Shadow

Written by Economy Bureau | New Delhi, Bangalore, Dec 28 | Updated: Dec 29 2007, 08:10am hrs
Trade talks now uncertain

India Inc watched cautiously as the fallout to the assassination of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto unfolded on Friday. The government, meanwhile, said political uncertainty in the neighbouring country could stall trade talks between India and Pakistan. And in a kneejerk reaction, Indian Railways decided to suspend all passenger and goods train services to Pakistan.

According to minister of state for commerce Jairam Ramesh, There will be some uncertainty. I was looking forward to going to Pakistan in March to discuss trade related issues. Now, I dont know whether that invitation still stands. We are hoping that by February-March, a new system will be in place and we can resume our dialogue.

Bilateral trade with Pakistan, both direct and indirect, is currently worth $4 billion, a miniscule amount compared to Indias total trade of about $200 billion. Both countries have initiated a number of steps to promote trade, including moves to accord most favoured nation status to each other. Besides, moves have also been made to boost cross-border trade, identify areas of cooperation as well as open new trade routes.

India has been making an effort to market its tea in Pakistan, build trade infrastructure at the Wagah border and across the line of control. In addition, industries from both countries have taken steps like organising trade fairs to boost bilateral trade relations.

On the issue of India cancelling train services to Pakistan, a railway ministry official said, Services of the Samjhauta Express and the Thar Express have been cancelled immediately due to security considerations. Pakistan Railways has been informed of the decision.

With the suspension of these services, the movement of goods trains to Pakistan has also been halted. While no official comment was available, sources added that zonal railways have been asked unofficially by the Railway Board to delay or halt the loading of freight destined for Pakistan.

The services are likely to be resumed in a few days after assessing the law and order situation in that country. The decision was taken after news that large-scale rioting in Pakistan had left trains and railway stations burnt and damaged, a Rail Bhavan official said.