Islamabad - Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today reached out to Pakistan and called for the two countries to have the courage to “do business with each other.”

A new trading relationship would open up Afghan and Central Asian markets for Indian goods and benefit the entire region, she told the Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad.

“It is time that we display the maturity and self-confidence to do business with each other and strengthen regional trade and cooperation. The entire world is waiting and rooting for a change. Let us not disappoint them”, she said.

Her comments are the most positive made by an Indian minister on Pakistan since relations between the two countries deteriorated shortly after Narendra Modi was sworn in as prime minister in June 2014. Pakistan had hoped his sweeping victory would pave the way for a new constructive dialogue but instead there have been accusations that Islamabad has not done enough to tackle terrorism, and increase in border skirmishes and a refusal to discuss the dispute over Kashmir. A meeting of National Security Advisors was cancelled in August when Pakistan insisted Kashmir must be on the agenda.

A dramatic breakthrough was made last week when Mr Modi met Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the Climate Change conference in Paris and agreed to begin a new dialogue. Their National Security Advisors met in Bangkok on Sunday and cleared the way for Sushma Swaraj to visit Pakistan and take part in the Heart of Asia conference.

Today she called for the two countries to deepen their relationship further by focussing on trade rather than the more contentious dispute over Kashmir. If India was allowed to join theAfghanistan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement, and Afghanistan given duty-free access to India’s markets, the whole region would benefit, she argued.

“ If Afghan trucks could carry Indian products to markets in Afghanistan and Central Asia, that would be the best way to make trucking from Afghanistan cost-effective and viable, and bestow benefits to the whole region”, she said.

She paid tribute to Afghanistan’s efforts in confronting terrorism in the country “with courage and resilience” and pledged continuing support to its president Ashraf Ghani in defending its unity and security. Her comments were made shortly after Taliban insurgents attacked Kandahar airport in the south of the country.

India has been seeking direct overland trade links through Pakistan to Afghanistan for some time but Islamabad has rejected the demands and said there cannot be progress on the issue while New Delhi refuses to discuss the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan has halted moves to grant India Most Favoured Nation status.

Pakistan had previously allowed bonded Afghan goods to transit to India at the Wagah border but the scheme has since been abandoned.

Despite Ms Swaraj’s impassioned plea for trade liberalisation, there is little prospect of progress without a new dialogue on Kashmir, one Pakistani analyst said.

 “Pakistan can help India on the basis of reciprocity,” said Najam Rafique.