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Pakistan, India Explore Bilateral Trade

Pakistan and India have agreed to immediately create a joint study group to explore ways of enhancing bilateral economic cooperation. The decision is another sign of the steadily improving relations between the traditional rival nations in South Asia.

The decision to establish a joint study group as made at a meeting in Islamabad between commerce ministers of India and Pakistan. Officials from both sides say the group will come into existence quickly and will be working towards an economic agreement between the two nations.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath emphasized the need for greater bilateral economic cooperation.

"Business communities of both India and Pakistan are looking for, are yearning for enhanced trade and economic opportunities between our two countries," he said.

India and Pakistan are currently engaged in a peace dialogue to settle outstanding issues, including their long-running territorial dispute over Kashmir. The divided region has caused two of the three wars between them and remains a source of military tensions.

Indian Minister Nath says that increased trade ties can accelerate efforts to normalize bilateral relations.

"Business, trade [and] economics have to be and are becoming globally the driving forces of peace, not merely of trade but of peace," he said.

Mr. Nath says that tensions between the two countries have restricted direct bilateral trade to $300 million, while their combined global trade stands at $200 billion (India's 175, Pakistan's 25).

The Indian minister says he also held a meeting with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf.

"President Musharraf has expressed his hope for enhanced trade with India in the light of composite dialogue, which is taking place," said Mr. Nath. "President Musharraf said that he looks forward to greater trade cooperation with India."

Pakistan and India came close to the brink of another war over Kashmir two-years ago. Since then the two countries moved to restore full diplomatic relations, sports events as well as some transport links.

Officials from the two countries also have completed a first round of discussions on a range of issues, including measures to reduce the chance of a nuclear war between them. The second round of such discussions is due to start later this month.