LONDON - The powerful brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has warned the military establishments of both India and Pakistan not to block efforts to sweep aside trade barriers between the two distrustful neighbours.
On Indian affairs, Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, is widely seen as the de facto Pakistani foreign minister, conducting diplomatic missions to Delhi on behalf of his brother Nawaz Sharif.
But speaking to the Guardian, he warned that distrustful ‘security agencies’ in both Pakistan and India were one of the two main ‘blockages’ holding back plans to liberalise trade, which the Sharifs believe will provide a desperately needed boost to Pakistan's moribund economy.
"Security agencies on both sides need to really understand that in today's world, a security-led vision is obviously driven by economic security," he said. "Unless you have economic security then you can't have general security."
While the Sharif brothers, in common with most mainstream politicians in Pakistan, are impatient for a rapprochement with India, the military is far more wary.
Pakistan's powerful military has warned the Sharifs against making rapid concessions, particularly in the run-up to India's general election. The incumbent Congress party is struggling to hold off a strong challenge from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, has long favoured better relations with Pakistan and may still travel across the frontier before the polls, which are due in April or May.
At the same time jihadi organisations in Pakistan with considerable street power have noisily protested against any trade deals with India.
But the brothers are determined to make progress. Sharif said disputes including Kashmir, cross-border water rights and the Siachen Glacier – where soldiers from both sides are engaged in a gruelling, high-altitude standoff – would only be resolved through "dialogue and imaginative thinking".
"If we remain hostage to our past then we will go nowhere," Sharif said in an interview at his private mansion in Lahore.
"We have fought three wars and it brought nothing but devastation and destruction. It brought miseries on both sides. It added more poverty, more unemployment. It solved nothing."
Even though Pakistan and India share thousands of miles of border, common languages and many cultural traditions, trade is negligible.
Few goods cross through the sleepy border crossing at Wagah border, which sits between Lahore and the Indian city of Amritsar – just a dozen miles from each.
Some goods are traded via third countries such as the United Arab Emirates, a practice Sharif describes as "very, very expensive".
Sharif said he told Singh during a meeting in Delhi in December that the matter was with Pakistan's courts on Mumbai attacks and "those who are found to be involved, there is no question they will be punished".
Many observers, conscious of LeT's historic relationship with Pakistan's military intelligence agency, are sceptical that anyone will ever be brought to book.
But Sharif said India has its own hardline groups opposed to peace efforts, naming the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a rightwing Hindu nationalist organisation which he said regularly protested against Pakistan.
Sharif said Islamabad had presented credible evidence of Indian involvement in the separatist insurgency raging in Baluchistan.
"Both countries need to stop the blame game and jointly resolve to move aside these roadblocks and move forward with a clear-cut agenda," he said.
Analyst Ashok Mehta, a retired Indian army general, said Sharif was wrong to say Indian "security agencies" were opposed to better relations with Pakistan, because many senior officers believed an improvement in relations with Pakistan "would free us up to deal with the greater threat, which is China".
Mehta said that, outside Kashmir, the Indian army and intelligence services were "subservient to the civilian leadership".
"The big difference between security officials in Pakistan and India is that in India they take orders from a civilian government," he told the Guardian.