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50 Indian CEOs to visit Pak

March 16, 2004 10:46 IST

First, the Prime Minister took the initiative for peace. Then, the baton was passed to the Indian cricket team. Now it's the turn of corporate India to sew up the peace deal.

ICICI Bank is taking about 50 Indian CEOs and finance directors this week to Pakistan on an Indian Airlines chartered flight to Lahore.

The team will watch a day and night one-day match, dine with Pakistan's finance minister and Pakistan's central bank governor and the Who's Who of Pakistan's industry and breakfast with the chief minister of Punjab. None of the CEOs in the team will keep any personal appointment in Pakistan.

The list of participants in the entourage and other finer details like which hotel they will check into and the timing of the chartered flight are closely guarded secrets for security reasons.

But it seems that barring Ratan Tata, Kumar Mangalam Birla, N R Narayan Murthy and Azim Premji, almost all high profile CEOs and CFOs will be there.

Both Mukesh and Anil Ambani and Confederation of Indian Industry president Anand Mahindra will join the two-day trip. J J Irani will represent the Tata group.

From the financial sector, the chairmen of two big public sector banks and of an insurance company, besides the managing director or a private bank, will be in the group.

The entire ICICI Bank brass, including CEO and managing director KV Kamath, will be on board the flight to Pakistan.

The Pakistan Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation is coordinating the group's visit.

PICIC chairman M Khoja will host a dinner at which finance minister Shaukat Ali, the central bank governor and representatives of trade and commerce will brush shoulders with Indian businessmen.

ICICI wants to play the role of a catalyst in pushing up the volume of Indo-Pak trade which is now as little as $200 million a year (the volume of third-country trade and contraband trade is about 10 times the official trade figure).

Divestment Minister Arun Shourie recently emphasised the need to tap the great potential in areas such as tourism, energy exchange and high-end manufacturing.

India buys pulses, dried fruit, leather, semi-precious and precious stones and cotton from Pakistan, which buys chemicals, engineering goods, tyres and pharmaceuticals from India.

ICICI Bank hit upon the idea a few weeks back when the Indian government formally cleared the tour. Former Indian cricketer turned commentator Sanjay Manjrekar played a key role in booking the tickets with the help of Pakistani cricket board chairman Rameez Raja.

It could have been a longer trip and included one more one-day match and a few more lunches and breakfasts with the local business community but for the visa restrictions. In Pakistan, an Indian visitor needs separate visas for separate cities.

A chartered flight has worked out cheaper than bulk bookings on regular flights to Pakistan which anyway were not available on such short notice.

The entire trip will cost ICICI Bank less than Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million) -- small beer for such an enormous brand building opportunity.

It's not yet known whether the entire Indian team will wear special tea shirts or caps with the ICICI Bank name embossed on them to cheer the Indian cricket team at Lahore's Gaddafi stadium.

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