The models on the catwalk were gracefully draped in colourful garments crafted from richly textured fabrics. They dazzled the appreciative audience with innovative new apparel and jewellery that brought a modern touch to traditional designs. As they sashayed down the runway they were accompanied by Urdu verses sung to contemporary tunes. Designers curtseyed to accept the thunderous applause in the hall.
This scene could have been anywhere in the world. But the fact that the designers were from Pakistan and the fashion show was in New Delhi, was as special and precious to the designers as any of their creations.
The event was an integral part of the Lifestyle Pakistan trade and culture show, held in April 2012, that brought the best of the country’s products, music and cuisine to India. Over 750 delegates from Pakistan were in India for two weeks: high society Pakistanis mingled so well with Indians that it was tough to tell them apart.
Eager consumers bought bagfuls of clothes and crafts, scarcely caring for their country of origin. Traders and investors hurriedly tied up partnerships to gain larger market access. The Lifestyle Pakistan event in India rapidly became the grand new symbol of the rapprochement taking place between neighbours with a prickly past and a deadly history.
By May, the two countries were in deep discussion to allow cross-border investment. Before, this had been virtually non-existent between two countries violently separated at birth. Now industry bodies from Pakistan are lobbying their government to create joint investment zones in border areas. The Indian government has said Pakistani investment will be welcome in most sectors.
While the rapid decision-making of the two governments on trade has surprised most observers, political issues still remain and fester, particularly border disputes. The dialogue on this front continues, but the pace is painfully slow.
There is hope that the visa restrictions between India and Pakistan will be eased in the next few months. This was one of the key recommendations of the World Economic Forum regional agenda councils on India and Pakistan, keen to develop a cross-border student exchange programme, but stymied by tough visa rules.
The India Council is preparing a report for improved governance and transparency in India that could help reverse the falling economic growth rate. A slowing India caught up in corruption scandals will not be able to capitalize on this new momentum towards a more cooperative relationship with Pakistan.
It has been a breathless few months for business ties between India and Pakistan. We must hope that the infectious enthusiasm displayed on the catwalks in New Delhi will encourage the governments of India and Pakistan to make more breathtaking decisions.
Author: Pranjal Sharma is a consulting editor at Business World, India, and the Vice-Chair of the Global Agenda Council on India.
Photo: Exhibitors from Pakistan prepare their stall of clothing at the Lifestyle Pakistan Exhibition in New Delhi, 12 April 2012. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi