Pakistan defers decision to resume trade with India

Federal cabinet puts off ECC decision to import sugar, cotton until Modi govt restores IIOJK's semi-autonomous status

Rizwan Ghilzai April 01, 2021
Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting of federal cabinet in Islamabad. PHOTO: PID/FILE


The federal cabinet on Thursday deferred the Economic Coordination Council's (ECC) decision to import sugar and cotton from India until the Modi-led government reviewed its 2019 move to abrogate the semi-autonomous status of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).

Prime Minister Imran Khan ruled out trade with New Delhi until it restored Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

At the start of the meeting, the premier pointed out that it was Pakistan’s principled stance not to resume trade ties with India until the resolution of the IIOJK issue.

Federal ministers Asad Umar, Sheikh Rashid, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Shireen Mazari also opposed the resumption of trade between the two neighbouring countries.

In fact, Umar had also opposed the move during the ECC meeting.

A day earlier, the ECC had given the nod to the resumption of trade with India in an effort to lower demand and prices in the country.

The move would have ended almost two years of trade suspension between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Headed by newly-appointed Finance Minister Hammad Azhar, the ECC had announced resumption of trade with India as part of an understanding to gradually normalise bilateral relations and ensure food security of the country that is bracing for shortages of wheat, sugar and cotton.

Chairing the federal cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Imran Khan made it clear that there could be “no normalisation of relations with India until it reversed its illegal actions” regarding IIOJK taken on Aug 5, 2019.

The cabinet formed a sub-committee to look into the matter and present its recommendations.

The premier would also be briefed on the issue by the foreign ministry on Friday (today).

“Today Cabinet stated clearly NO trade with India," Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari tweeted.


Earlier in the day, the minister pointed out that all ECC decisions "have to be approved by the federal cabinet".

"Only then they can be seen as 'approved by government'," she added. "Media should be aware of this at least.”

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a private TV news channel that it was a consensus opinion, including that of the prime minister, that as long as India did not review the Aug 5, 2019 unilateral steps it took, it would not be possible to normalise relations with New Delhi.

Also read: Trade ties with India resume

Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told reporters the decision had been "deferred" until New Delhi restored IIOJK's special status.

Pakistan's economy is in the doldrums, a position made worse by a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic that has seen the reintroduction of partial lockdowns across the country.

The import of half a million tons of sugar would likely have slashed prices by up to 20% ahead of the forthcoming fasting month of Ramazan, when consumption soars.

The economic committee had also paved the way for three million tons of wheat to be brought in, as well as unspecified quantities of cotton and yarn.

Bloomberg reported last week that the United Arab Emirates had brokered secret back-channel talks between the two South Asian nations.

Speaking at a post-cabinet meeting press conference, Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry said decision-making in the government was done on a "very different level".

“The final decision rests with the cabinet,” he added.

“The ECC's decision to allow import of sugar and cotton from India held the status of a recommendation for the government and it was not mandatory for the cabinet to approve it.”

The minister maintained that the headlines that were printed that Pakistan had decided to resume trade with India were incorrect.

He added that Islamabad’s stated position was that "until India's occupation of Kashmir and the steps to change its position are reversed, such decisions [on trade] will be processed through the filter that the government has determined in this regard”.

Talking about the letter written by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to PM Imran on the occasion of Pakistan Day, Fawad said improvement in relations between India and Pakistan would be beneficial for the region and help the economy grow, but this progress could not take place at the cost of Kashmir.

He added that PM Imran, in his reply to Modi, had also asked India to move toward resolving the Kashmir issue.

"So the stated position of the government of Pakistan and Prime Minister Imran Khan is that the key to peace in South Asia lies in the resolution of the Kashmir issue. And if you [India] want peace, you will have to resolve the Kashmir issue, and in this connection, the first step will be that you revert to the position of August 5.”

However, the minister added that it could not happen that India considered Muslims second-class citizens, massacre them and did not give rights to Kashmiris.

“[If India does all this] we and India can live in harmony," he said.

The move appears to be yet another U-turn by the PTI government.

PM Imran, who is also the minister-in-charge of commerce and textile, had approved the summaries for import of cotton, cotton yarn and sugar to be placed before the ECC for approval.

On the Covid-19 situation in the country, Fawad said the government wanted to deal with the ongoing third wave of the virus in the same "organised manner" which it had employed during the first two waves.

The minister claimed that 98% of citizens would receive the Covid-19 vaccine free of charge which the government would arrange through its own funds and donations.

Also read: Pakistan to step up vaccination to turn tide against Covid-19: Dr Faisal

“For the 2% citizens who do not want to wait in the queue, the government has decided to allow private vaccine imports as well.”

Fawad noted that importers who had acquired the vaccine from abroad wanted to sell it locally at the price of their choice, which went against PM Imran's priority that citizens who wanted to purchase the vaccine were not "looted".

The price of a single dose of Chinese CanSino vaccine has been fixed at Rs4,225 for now and the cost of the Russian Sputnik V jab will be determined as soon as the Sindh High Court decides the matter.

(With input from agencies)


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