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BW Businessworld

Lahore Meets Delhi

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A first time visitor from India to Lahore will notice a surprising number of similarities with Delhi. The central area of both Lahore and Delhi have the same tree lined avenues. This is where the elite and the powerful live; in large bungalows with even larger walls. The shopping district for the middle class has the familiar range of domestic and global brands on sale. The traders and salesmen show the same knack for talking the consumer into buying a product that they don't need or at a price that may not be justifiable.

The heritage monuments from the Mughal and British era are similar too. Some are very well maintained, but many are in a state of neglect and disrepair. 

The old city areas have an almost identical bustle about them. The streets are narrow, crowded and loud. Every type of moving vehicles aggressively pushes wades through all competition.

Most importantly, the language is common. Lahoris speak in Punjabi most of the time, much like the bulk of Delhi residents. If you ignore the signages written in Urdu, it would be easy to mistake some parts of Lahore with Delhi.

Common ground is easy to find for Indians in Lahore. Many Indian industry leaders capitalised on it at the first ever Pakistan India Management Summit (PIMS) in Lahore last week.

Business leaders from Pakistan and India met like old friends and talked business like seasoned partners. The conference was on human resources so it was not surprising that all talk was about joining forces. By putting their population together, Pakistan and India together can form the single largest economic market in the world. This exciting thought dominated the conference.

I was fortunate enough to be part of the group of All India Management Association (AIMA) delegates attending the conference. What caught my attention was that nobody was fooling any one. All business leaders recognised the future challenges and the prickly past. But they approached the Pakistan- India relationship with constructive and positive thoughts. Despite nasty brawls, China and India trade is growing faster than you can say Ni Hao and Namaste.

The fractious European countries formed a single market after the two crippling world wars. So what stopped Pakistan and India from doing business with each other? Only some outdated prejudices in parts of both societies and government, CEOs concluded. 

The debates in civil society about the future of Pakistan are far more mature than is apparent. Pakistan saw country-wide violence against the anti-Islam movie during the day when the PIMS was being held.

Social, religious and business leaders debated on the futility of violence on TV debates. There was a stark realisation that the best way to influence the world was to enhance the economic strength of Pakistan. Many commentators gave the example of how Japan rose from the ashes to become an economic giant after it suffered nuclear attacks. Neighbours like Sri Lanka overcame debilitating ethnic strife to be among the richest Asian countries.

Putting economy as the top priority is critical for Pakistan, many experts said. Even consumers now realise that economic barriers between Pakistan and India are affecting their cost of living. For instance, automobiles are 30-40 per cent more expensive in Pakistan than in India. Textiles makers from Pakistan are aching to tap the lucrative Indian market.

The lure of lucrative markets for manufacturers will keep up the pressure on governments to maintain the momentum on normalisation of relations.  Pakistan and India have the largest resource of young people in the world. Well invested, this resource would pay great dividends to both countries.The nitty gritty of easing visas, travel and financial links is being worked on by governments of Pakistan and India now. As travel and ties increase, the already limited differences between Lahore and Delhi will reduce further.

(Pranjal Sharma is a senior business writer. He can be contacted at [email protected]