A visiting Pakistani businesswomen's delegation on Thursday proposed to set up a SAARC Women Entrepreneurs Council and joint Business Council of women entrepreneurs from the two countries to promote trade.
Begum Salma Ahmed, chief executive officer and national chairperson of WCCI is in the Capital with the aim of meeting Sonia Gandhi and congratulate her on the election victory of the Congress, express their admiration for her and to extend her an invitation to visit Pakistan.
"The primary objective of this visit is to congratulate Sonia Gandhi," said Begum Ahmed, a former parliamentarian and a senior leader of Pakistani Muslim League. She is also a leading industrialist, one of the very few women doing business in strife-torn Kabul. Gandhi's decision not to accept the prime ministership shows that women can make "great sacrifice" and it was a "grand gesture," Begum Ahmed asserted.
On the sidelines of a business meet of the Confederation of Indian Industry and WCCI, Begum Ahmed told rediff.com that the delegation would present Mrs Gandhi a set of suggestions to improve exchanges and partnerships between women entrepreneurs on both sides of the border. The suggestions "are all positive programmes", she said, adding that she was confident Mrs Gandhi would accept the suggestions.
The delegation would also extend an invitation to Mrs Gandhi to visit Pakistan, Begum Ahmed said. The 15-member Pakistani delegation comprises leading publishers such as Ayesha Tiwana of the Daily Times, leading fashion designers among others.
Speaking on the scope of boosting trade in the region, Begum Ahmed said: "The two countries can make a big difference in promoting trade in the SAARC region. A Women Entrepreneurs Council and Joint Business Council of Pakistani and Indian women entrepreneurs will go a long way in achieving this objective."
The council would not only encourage women entrepreneurs, but would also help make SAARC an economic region to realise the full potential of trade as the 7-nation club had so far failed to make optimum use of available resources, she added.
"We are trying to make a concerted effort for the council and give due representation to women in the forum," Begum Ahmed said.
She said trade restrictions would be minimal after the federal Budget is presented in Islamabad, adding that visa restriction for business travellers from India would also be eased considerably.
Begum Ahmed, herself a pioneer businesswoman, being the first to export steel and cement to Afghanistan and help the war ravaged country in its reconstruction, said she wanted women to enter business negotiations in the same way as men, without any favour or discrimination.
She said "fair amount" of business would be generated during the current visit itself in areas as diverse as cement, steel, power plants, construction material and handicrafts.
Begum Ahmed was all praise for Pakistan President Musharraf for reserving 33 per cent seats in Parliament and hoped women in India would also occupy one-third seats in Lok Sabha soon.
Women in the two countries face attitudinal and social problems, she said, adding their chamber has also proposed to give incentives to women entrepreneurs from both sides of the border to forge business ties.
Salma Malik, part of the high profile delegation, said she had already entered into partnership with an Indian company for promoting her apparel, but chose not to disclose the name of her partner.
Farzana Rehman, a leading woman exporter in Pakistan in handicrafts and mirror work items, said there was a very positive response in India for her products and she was negotiating for entering the market here.
The Woman's Chamber is also organising a conference and trade exhibition in Karachi in September as part of its efforts to promote bilateral trade ties, she said.
Endorsing Ahmed's proposal, CII deputy director S Sen said they were also willing to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to set up a joint business council.
Rumjhum Chatterjee, member of the CII National Committee on Women Empowerment said if interactions between women entrepreneurs on either side can be strengthened then the Indo-Pak bilateral trade could increase manifold from the existing $ 300-400 million.
Additional inputs: PTI