Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Amarinder Singh has called for strengthening of trade and people-to-people ties with Pakistan in order to defuse tensions and promote better relations between the two neighbours.

At an informal luncheon meeting with Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Sohail Mahmood, the CM expressed concern over the declining trade levels between the two countries due to escalation in tensions along the borders in recent months.

Amarinder and Mahmood agreed that the downslide in trade was detrimental to the interest of both India and Pakistan. They stressed on the need for concerted efforts on both sides to ease the tensions through people-centric measures.

Amarinder said he was in favour of reviving the Indo-Pak Punjab Games, which he had introduced during his previous tenure as CM, saying sporting events could play a pivotal role in boosting people-to-people relations on both sides of the Punjab border.

The games had been launched earlier in 2004 from Patiala, with events in a dozen disciplines, including hockey, cycling, athletics, gymnastics, polo, handball, wrestling, badminton, volleyball, tug-of-war, shooting and kabaddi.

The High Commissioner was also of the view that more people-level contacts between the two nations could help pave the way for long-term peace and stability in the region. It was important for the development and progress of both the countries that they work in a spirit of harmony to promote the welfare of their respective people, he added.

The Pak envoy raised the issue of repatriation of prisoners who had completed their terms from both sides and said that various clearances required from the authorities should be expedited for the purpose.

Both Amarinder and Mahmood underscored the need for promoting bilateral trade as a means to further the peace process, and also strengthen the fundamentals in both the countries to facilitate their economic and social development.

They agreed that both India and Pakistan could ill-afford to alienate themselves from each other in the transforming global milieu, where the two nations were faced with many common threats and enemies.

It was in their mutual interest to work together, in the spirit of bonhomie, to fight these challenges, said Amarinder, adding that, with their shared historical roots, the people of India and Pakistan could easily relate to one another.

The Pak High Commissioner agreed that it was important to initiate government-level efforts to provide the people with suitable platforms for their collective development, he added.