The newly-elected prime minister of Pakistan has spoken out for resumption of bilateral dialogue with India. No one should have issue with that. The much-vaunted ‘composite dialogue’ process between Pakistan and India has been in a longish doldrums of sorts. Time may be ripe for some stock-taking, if not soul-searching. In the process, it may not be such a bad idea to do a bit of arithmetic if only to find out where the whole rigmarole threatens to take the two countries — and the region — in the interim.
As one recalls, a short while back, bananas, tomatoes and onions were being imported from India by the truckload to get over a purported ‘shortage’ of these items this side of the border. The man in the street may be excused for wondering why is it that time and again it is we who take such precipitate decisions. Why on earth do we not plan in advance? Surely, in the agriculture sector we should never be caught napping.
An over-the-shoulder reality check may be in order. Not the last time but the one before that, when there was a crisis linked to the price of sugar, the planners had allowed the import of sugar from India ostensibly “to stabilise domestic prices”.
Has the perspicacious reader ever wondered why India never felt the bilateral urge to import such stuff from Pakistan? After all, across the border, they too must feel the necessity occasionally to “stabilise domestic prices”. Or, was it only our skyrocketing economy that felt the pinch?
Why is it that at Wagah the traffic in foodstuffs has been mainly Pakistan-bound? Maybe it is because, unlike the gregarious Pakistanis, the Indians are trained to keep their cravings within bounds. Or, perhaps because their essential needs were being met through the channel of smuggling, in which our nationals have long indulged with abandon. Smuggling is a vice that cannot be fully curbed; it happens all over the world. The sole pity is that our chaps chose to smuggle out essential items like edible oils, rock salt, cement and wheat in return for such practically worthless produce as ‘pan’, ‘bidi’ and beetle-nuts.
Be that as it may, one simply fails to understand the elusive psyche of our very own liberal pen pushers. They are all for getting things over from India. For instance, one recalls the hue and cry about non-import of Indian films, books and journals. One would have had no quarrel with these demands if only they were not so blatantly one-sided. Why didn’t these chaps also make out a case for reciprocal exports from Pakistan to India? After all, there is such a thing as reciprocity in international relations.
And then, one may justifiably ask those of our nationals who have been clamouring for the restoration of full-fledged trade relations with India how they intend to bring about any semblance of equilibrium in the balance of trade between the two countries. One does not wish to pour cold water over their dreams, but one would certainly like to be convinced of the legitimacy of their argument. After all, there is a case to be made for a level-playing field.
The fruits thus far of the myriad CBMs on and off the bilateral high table have all been reaped by Indian interests. One seeks in vain to pinpoint any CBM that may, ever so indirectly, have brought some benefit to this land. The much-vaunted people-to-people-contact rigmarole degenerated into a one-sided tourist yatra from Pakistan to India. Literally, thousands of Pakistanis (among them a generous sprinkling of ‘begums’; their bags bursting with dollars) made regular pilgrimages to Indian cities to buy jewellery, clothing and the like! Barring members of divided families, there were hardly any reciprocal visits in the opposite direction. Such Indians as did visit came mainly as honoured guests of the government or of our socialites. Pakistan’s economy gained little from their visits. In effect, the people-to-people-contact CBM, like so many others of the ilk, have long lost relevance, if ever there was one.
It is about time someone made out a case for reciprocity!
Published in The Express Tribune, September 2nd, 2018.