Islamabad: Pakistan`s richest man, Mian Mohammad Mansha, has applied to authorities to open Pakistani bank branches in India for the first time since partition 65 years ago.
Mansha said his Nishat business group, which has a controlling stake in Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB), was the first Pakistani firm to apply to open branches in India following recent changes in rules.
MCB is Pakistan`s largest bank by market capitalisation at USD 1.2 billion.
"Our major rationale is that India is a very profitable market," Mansha told the Financial Times.
"We have asked the State Bank (Pakistan?s central bank) for permission to open three branches (in India) to begin with. The opportunities are endless," he said.
Mansha said any potential opening up in India will help Pakistan`s banks move into a market where the returns are higher than in their own country.
"Foreign banks are raking in money in India and that is not the same in Pakistan," he said.
The Nishat group has also applied to the Reserve Bank of India.
The group will have to get permission from the central banks of both the countries in order to open branches.
If this happens, MCB will become the first Pakistani bank to open branches in India since 1947.
MCB has 1,165 branches in Pakistan and eight abroad, and around four million customers.
Pakistani authorities are currently examining the Nishat group`s application.
The move comes against the backdrop of steps taken by both India and Pakistan to normalise trade relations.
Pakistan recently switched over to a negative list regime for trade, paving the way for giving India Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status by the beginning of next year.
The two sides have said they intend to boost bilateral trade from the current level of about USD 2 billion to USD 6 billion by 2014.
The normalisation of trade relations began after the two countries resumed their peace process last year after a gap of over two years in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
However, direct cross-border trade currently accounts for less than one per cent of the global commerce of both countries.