“Let us turn the Line of Control into the Line of Cash”
Majyd Aziz, Karachi-born chairman of the MHG Group of Companies, was the only industrialist who accompanied the Pakistan Parliamentary delegation on trade that visited India from 3 to 5 September. In a conversation with Kunal Majumder, Aziz discussed the present status of India-Pakistan trade negotiation and what are the obstacles for a better India-Pakistan relation
What is your feeling about the India-Pakistan trade talks?
Things are moving. When Indian Trade Minister Anil Sharmaji came, he reiterated one point, “You Pakistanis move one step forward, and we'll move two steps forward.” Yes, India has opened its doors for Pakistani investments; India has allowed us to enter the Mumbai Stock Exchange and to buy shares. That is a good move, we appreciate it. Now, what if I set up a factory here, I must first find workers, who would obviously be Indians; the mindset of that worker is that he is working for someone that for 65 years was his enemy. What happens if tomorrow Pakistan beats India in a cricket game that India was winning? May be one of my Indian workers watching the game will feel he must retaliate, out of frustration – not because he does not like me. You have extremists also: would that impact negatively the safety of my factory? This was extensively discussed in Pakistan when this announcement (allowing Pakistani FDI in India) was made.
Pakistani investing is a big step, but I did not call it a landmark decision. The day India cancels the clause that prohibits Indian investment in Pakistan that will not only be a landmark; it will be like Neil Armstrong's 'big step for mankind'. You have no idea about the amount of profit that can be made by investing in Pakistan. Your 'big boys' understand that, and I have been given assurances that there is going to be a change.
There is a lot of anti-Americanism in Pakistan yet Americans continue to invest in Pakistan. How does that model work? Could it be duplicated with regards to Pakistani investments in India or vice versa?
Today, according to various surveys, more people in Pakistan are anti-American than anti-Indian. Americans are investing billions in Pakistan, despite our country getting a negative image. When a businessman comes to a country, he is not there for charity, he is there to make money; money has no religion, no country. For money, a lot of things happen. So, if you are getting a return on investment beyond your wildest dreams, you will go there. Many Americans are reluctant to come to Karachi or Lahore to buy and prefer meeting in Dubai... but if you want to sell, you will go on top of a mountain or in the middle of the desert!
There is a 65 year old mindset between India and Pakistan. It will change, we have to develop the trust factor. The Line of Control (LoC) does not only mean 'enemy', there is a 'friend' factor as well. Let us look for opportunities. Our companies go to international conferences, and we develop business relationships with many different people. You cannot just develop business on your laptop. Business is a relationship where people should look at each other in the eye.
Recently, on my birthday, 15 August, on your Independence Day, I signed a contract on behalf on my family business with a British company, regarding a mineral from Pakistan which has not yet been exploited correctly. They were so afraid to come to Karachi in July because they went on the stupid Internet and read travel advisories. I told them: 'I will pick you up from the plane and take you back to the plane, take my word for it.' So they came to Karachi and spent a day, I took them around the port area and asked them if they saw bombs or guns. They told me they wished they could stay more; so I told them: 'If you stay one more day, I'll take you at 2 am in the areas your travel advisories talk about, and I will guarantee you myself that you have nothing to fear.' Anything can happen anywhere, even in New York City or Johannesburg. They are now ready to sign a five-year contract, because within 24 hours, we developed a form of trust. So I hope this example can inspire the Pakistan-India relationship.
When we can develop trust, when we do business, the employees will start to feel the same trust as the employers. It is an evolutionary process, you cannot force anything. Let us open big door through which sumo wrestler can pass through, not just small windows.
But what are the practical difficulties at the moment regarding this evolutionary process?
There are bureaucratic barriers, through that historical mindset. When it comes to Pakistani products, the red tape will be prolonged.
Do you think Indian bureaucracy has a strong anti-Pakistan mindset?
Indian bureaucracy has to change. I see so much bureaucracy here in India. You are growing at a fast pace, you are becoming a giant. It is in your own interest, you are a huge market.
Do you think there is a political will from India to improve trade ties?
I think political and business leadership are now on the same page. I think one day you have to say 'enough is enough'. India trades with everybody. Trading with Pakistan is peanuts for India. From your point of view, it is not really a big deal, 2 to 3 billion (dollars). You are already sending products in Pakistan through Dubai and Singapore. What is the big deal about trading directly?
Before you Indians go see Salman Khan in Ek Tha Tiger, it is already released in Pakistan. Selling or not selling to Pakistan, this will not bankrupt your companies. But from a Pakistani point of view, this will bring a lot of benefits. The government will increase its revenue. Sanity and pragmatism will prevail.
Do you think there is more pragmatism in India or in Pakistan?
In India. It is my view that Sharmaji as well as your businessmen are keen on developing trade.
Do you think that tomorrow, if BJP comes into power, they will continue these talks? A lot of people point out that Indo-Pak relationship was better when Vajpayee was Prime Minister.
I should not be commenting on the political issue, but I foresee a BJP government after the next elections and that this BJP government will carry the baton of Anil Sharmaji, and I hope they hand it on to Arun Jaitley. He is my favourite. I think he is a dynamic man. This is my personal opinion. He will be the flag-bearer.
Whenever we speak about Indo-Pak trade relationships, what comes up is the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Do you think BJP will be able to look beyond that and be more pragmatic?
I think that they will get out of the 26/11 mindset. They will not forget it, but they will go forward. I am very optimistic about this and I will be proven right, mark my words. Pakistan and India will come together if some country, for instance, puts up an economic barrier for rice: it will be a routine.
Do you think the Pakistani army is pragmatic when it comes to trading with India?
When you sell, buy or trade, people are not dying because of that. The first priority of armies is to maintain peace. So either you do that with a gun, or with trade. I will not come to sell my fabric with security guards with guns. When a Pakistani, an Indian or a Bangladeshi soldier is killed, why do we say his nationality? It is a human being who is killed first and foremost.
Do you think pragmatism is present in the Pakistani establishment?
We need jobs. We need schools. Things change every year. Who thought about call centres some years ago? Why don't we set up call centres in Pakistan?
But the employment narrative cannot lay a blind eye on the extremism in Pakistan.
An empty mind is the devil's workshop. If I do not have a job, and you have business, my animal instinct will tell me to destroy your business. You can lead a horse to the water but you cannot make it drink. If a person is an idiot and cannot work, it is not my fault. And I would like to say one more thing — I wish four years ago, we Pakistani had taken better steps, and we would not be the underdogs that we are today.
It was a very charged situation then post 9/11.
It was the same as today. We would be reaping the benefits today had we started this process earlier. Let us now forget the past. In families too there are family feuds. We fought colonialism together, now we can fight the world, but not with guns — with business and corporations. I have four children. Do I want them to live in a Pakistan with enemies everywhere? Or do I want to ensure that my grandson can pick up the phone and cross the border? Let us turn the Line of Control into the Line of Cash. What legacy am I leaving them? Pakistan is my country; I do not want American, Indian or Timbuktu citizenship. I want to be Pakistani. This is not nationalism, this is my motherland. If I have made money or lost money, I have done it in my own home, and home is like heaven.
Kunal Majumder is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka.