WASHINGTON - Despite a spike in tensions between South Asia’s nuclear rivals, India’s envoy to Washington said Friday her country wants closer trade ties with Pakistan.

Nirupama Rao also said that overland trade from war-battered Afghanistan to India via Pakistan would be a boon to regional stability, reported a private TV channel, quoting a foreign news agency.

Her comments at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank come despite a fraying in recently improved relations between the two neighbours that was driven by the mutual benefit they can get from more commerce.

Rao did not directly address the current tensions but said whatever their differences, India and Pakistan cannot ignore the fact they are close neighbours. She said it was ‘very encouraging’ that Pakistani businessmen in particular have a great desire to open trade with India. Much of the current trade goes through third-countries or illegal channels.

 “Pakistan has assured us that it’s going to provide MFN status to India. We are waiting for that decision to be announced formally and implemented. That will certainly boost confidence and clear the way for closer trade ties,” Rao said.

The ambassador also made a pitch for the prospect of more trade from Afghanistan, which has itself been a source of India-Pakistan dispute as the two countries have vied for influence in the region.

Rao said Afghanistan is a potential trade hub linking Central and South Asia. “We have to ensure Afghanistan can fulfil that role for its own stability and well-being and our well-being in the region. Transit and trade for Afghanistan through Pakistan into India is important in that context,” she said.