During World War II, several tribal, pre-industrial societies came into contact with the modern world for the first time. The Japanese and American armies used remote areas of the southwest Pacific Ocean to transport cargo. The natives were in awe of the metal birds that flew in with bounty they had never seen before. And so, when the war was over and the flying routes ceased to be used, these tribals started a particular form of worship to their deities to bring back the precious cargo and its advanced food products.
They believed these products were from the gods who were favouring ‘foreigners’. They used materials available to them to construct symbols of planes, took coconuts and broke them up to resemble radios. While it seems quaint, they were obviously using a very crude form of ‘cause’ and ‘effect’. With the limited education at their disposal, this is how they best understood the world.
It may seem that at least today, the vast majority of the world is beyond this type of behaviour. Well, not really. We have been most famously misled by William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet with the words “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Not true.
Actually a word can taint our understanding of things. Our taste buds, for example, should be able to tell us whether something is sweet, sour or tasty. However, studies show the influence of the name of a product on our perceptions of taste. Even experienced sommeliers, wine experts, can be fooled when blindfolded.
And herein we come to our real problem, that of the most-favoured nation (MFN). The MFN status is a problematic name to begin with and if, one doesn’t know that it is about trade, one can easily assume it has something to do with state friendship. Not only is the name a misnomer, but it presents illogic at its centre in that there cannot be more than one most-favoured nation status, but actually individual states accord this many, many times over to their trading partners.
Members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) hand out to each other the MFN status. The MFN status is simply according another country equal status, not preferential status as is being presumed. Preferential status is actually called preferential treatment. When they set up the WTO, they really should have invested in a dictionary.
Opening up Pakistan to Indian imports is not without its risks. But it comes with opportunities as well. Unfortunately, the popular debate on the issue is highly politicised, understandable given Pakistan’s history with India. But Jamaatud Dawa need not be part of those influencing the discourse.
In this particular time of increasing international isolation of Pakistan, it is in its best interests to develop trade corridors for itself, rather than strategising itself as a basket case for either the USA or China.
But the MFN misnomer is a powerful one, one we need to address forthrightly if we are to take advantage of the opportunities it can bring, of which fuel and electricity could be critical components. Muddling the context, cause and effect makes us a very different cargo cult.
The prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, knows this and, in a Freudian slip, acknowledged the issue when he flubbed an answer to an interview being conducted by Munizae Jehangir on Express News, “Yes, we have given Most-Favourite Nation status to India.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2011.