The prime minister’s message to those looking towards the army regarding the move to grant India a symbolic trading status is simple: it’s none of the military’s business.
Speaking to reporters at his residence in Lahore on Friday, Yousaf Raza Gilani said the most favoured nation (MFN) issue does not involve the army, and stressed that only the business communities and stock exchanges of Pakistan and India are legitimate stakeholders – and both are on board, as are the political parties of the ruling coalition.
He said that the cabinet has, in principle, given the go-ahead to the ministry of commerce to negotiate with their Indian counterparts.
However, notwithstanding the PM’s firm stance, senior civil and military officials held meetings at the foreign ministry to discuss the implications of granting MFN status to India.
The meetings were chaired by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and attended by military and intelligence officials. The foreign ministry did not divulge details regarding the participants.
“As part of regular consultations, the foreign minister today consulted all stakeholders on foreign policy issues including the resumed dialogue process with India, at the foreign ministry,” said a ministry statement.
In Lahore, Gilani concentrated on the commerce ministry’s role as Pakistan and India begin the nitty-gritty of negotiations. The PM said the ministry would need to take important decisions independently when it comes to bargaining with India over trade policy, hence it had sought the cabinet’s go-ahead.
Pakistan has already bestowed MFN status on more than 100 countries. The somewhat misleading designation ‘most favoured nation’ should not detract from the main concern which lies ahead for the two countries: working out mutually beneficial and lasting agreements.
While the MFN status will remove discriminatory higher pricing and duty tariffs that stand as barriers to export between the neighbours, non-tariff barriers continue to stand in the way of increased trade, say analysts.
Nevertheless, the meetings in Islamabad prove that Pakistan’s military cannot be totally ignored. Indeed, the consultations took place against the backdrop of murmurs that Pakistan might review its decision to fully normalise trade ties with India.
In a clear departure from a decades-old policy, the federal cabinet on Wednesday unanimously decided to grant India MFN status. Since then, mixed signals emerged from different government quarters about the issue.
A Reuters report, which quoted an unnamed Indian official accusing Pakistan of backtracking, added to the confusion. Pakistan moved swiftly to dismiss the claim.
“Pakistan is not backtracking,” Foreign Office spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua told Reuters. “Pakistan clearly stated that our cabinet gave approval to move forward on MFN status in principle.”
Commerce Secretary Zafar Mehmood was also adamant that the deal was still on.
“The cabinet has given approval for the complete normalisation of the trade relationship, and MFN is fully included in it and it is part of it,” Zafar said in comments broadcast on state television.
“We are extremely hopeful that there will be a major breakthrough in the next round of commerce secretaries’ meetings on November 14, 15 in Delhi,” Mehmood added. “We will finalise all the details in that meeting.”
Gilani was in an equally positive mood. Asked whether all stakeholders are on board, the PM said that the coalition government is united on the issue.
The PM was quick to reassure those threatened by granting India the trade status, saying that the interests of local and domestic industry would be protected.
Gilani also affirmed the cabinet’s executive powers. “We can brief Parliament over the cabinet’s decision of going ahead with MFN, but according to my point of view it is not necessary. Only cabinet approval is necessary to negotiate with other countries,” he said.
Giving an example of countries which had set aside political difference for bilateral foreign trade, Gilani pointed to China and India.
Friday’s intrigues came ahead of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Maldives next week. Gilani and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh are likely to meet on the sidelines of the conference.
(Read: Liberalising trade with India)
Published in The Express Tribune, November 5th, 2011.
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It is simply wonderful to see young, engaged Pakistanis caring enough to argue their point of view with passion without any threats of violence. If given a chance, and that may or may not happen, the same people can make a success of Pakistan.
@Maria ... And PA never supported these militia groups ? and yea missing persons in Balochistan are also done by RAW right ?
Can we please cut the conspiracy theory crap and for one use our brains and analyse the whole situation. If you don't even accept what the problem is than how are you going to solve it ?
@Maria: Your government is still trying to establish itself as fully recognized power that is above the army in rank in regard to decisions. They're not going to be able to do that without at least pointing out the lines. Especially when just months or weeks before and a long time before that, people were criticizing the government on being the army's puppets.
It's very doubtful it's personal. It just seems sometimes the Pakistani citizens need the obvious pointed out to them. Look at the surprise coming from people. Obviously it's still an unestablished grey area in the eyes of the people.
There's a whole lot wrong with the rest of what you say but I'm not going anywhere near it. You're just way too attached to the victim image regardless of what anyone tells you.
Yes, every single Democracy on this planet can and does make decisions without consulting the army every day of every nano second. Trade and foreign policy is on top of the list. Army, I mean every army in the world is good for one thing and thing only, to create war and to continue it forever so that can get bigger and better toys to play with.
The old adage is that “the army is to be seen and not to be heard from”. Take the advise, try it how it works out. Hearing from the army hasn’t worked well for you, has it?
Shiv Shankar Menon told then US Secretary of State, Dr. Rice “Pakistan is not a country with an Army, but an Army with country” which, is what you are stating.
Mr. Menon’s observation is proving to be true.
@Mohammad Ali Siddiqui:
With thought like yours, democracy will never, ever take root in Pakistan. NEVER.
I have given new meaning to “one can prove anything with absurd logic”. In your case it is even beyond absurdity, don’t know if it is possible but you are definitely giving it a try.
@Mirza: Agree Sir!
@Nadir: If they interfere the country will loose!
First: Has Pakistan granted the MFN status or not? Second: Do the people objecting MFN know what it means? "Favoured" does not mean favorite friend - its just a courteous semantic. Third: How can an army whose job is to defend and fight decide on economic and socialist policies? Finally: This is much ado about nothing. Pakistan is obliged to provide MFN to India under WTO. If it was so important to India they would not only have lodged formal protest, but also pressurized Pakistan through WTO 10-15 years back.
I am surprised to no small degree that two neighbours so similar and with a long shared history can have such stark views about so many things (least of all about definition & responsibility of "Army")
Has Pakistan really granted MFN status to India. ?
Gilani is right. Army has no direct role in trade relations with any country. By the way, i do not have an iota of doubt that Army is on the same page with federal govt on MFN issue. Can any federal govt take such a bold step with Army clearance???????
Nothing new, I started beleiving that whoever in Pakistan, can not be trusted let it be Shahid Afridi on Retirement, M Ameer or Gilani or Imran Khan. Among them one thing is common, Changing a statement, Changing decesion. So This is Pakistan everybody knows !
PA should be reminded that its people who pay taxes to GOP and its GOP who allocate funds to PA. So please stop poking into GOP's policy making.
@Mirza: "Every country has an army to serve the people. In Pakistan it is the other way around".
Agree. It is crazy to starve kids in the home and not pay school fees just so that the chowkidars ever increasing salary can be met
The MFN status to India is given on principles and by the state of Pakistan. I believe it is unnecessary to classify Army, a separate entity from any matter that includes India, given the fact that Pak-Army is an important state institution. Inclusion of Stock Exchanges of both India and Pakistan are very encouraging and it is a step forward. But, a comprehensive strategy to continue to sustain a viable and equal economic relationship, it is crucial to include every stakeholder of Pakistan. The Army of Pakistan's consent and support would just strengthen this initiative, therefore, the appropriate stance would be to take the army on board, rather than to rhetorically exclude the "Guards of Pakistan". One more point is that it is the best time engage India in trade because our economy is almost breaking-down and so is the peace in the region. The peace dividend then could come through improving Pakistan's economic condition, India and the US must play their positive role in this process.
I love the decorations on the Pakistani trucks !! Hope to see them in India soon. What has the army got to do with trade anyway? Pakistan gives way too much importance to its military. They are just the guards of the state. Not its rulers.
Good! Army should mind it's own business. Regards, Rehan
Every country has an army to serve the people. In Pakistan it is the other way around. It is courageous of PM Giliani to sound like a real head of Pakistan.
Granting MFN or not is not the issue; the real problem is that having granted MNF and cabinet approving it and now trying to back track..........
Really one wonders at the whole decision making process.
The status of "Most Favoured Nation" to India is given by the Federal Government of Pakistan and not by any private institution of Pakistan.
How can the now the government is saying that Pakistan Army is not part of India trade equation?
Pakistan army is also part of the Federal Government of Pakistan.
By accepting India as most favoured nation, it means that Federal Government of Pakistan is accepting the worst enemy of Pakistan as most favoured friend.
I don’t understand as what type of mind set the present government has and what it is intending to do?
Tomorrow, our government will give permission to the Indian terrorists to come to Pakistan without having any visa and do whatever they want to do.
Did the sitting government of Pakistan take the mandate from the people of Pakistan who elected their representatives in the National and Provincial Assemblies to give most favoured nation status to India? No.
What is this nonsense going on in Pakistan.
I think we are talking about the armed forces of our own country, we have to realize that there are so many outstanding issues with india and particularly among those the jugular vein of our country Kashmir is the most vital and important one, while there is no denying that political masters should be taking prudent decisions in the best interest of our sacred homeland, however saying that your most well organized institution in the country has got nothing to do with MFN status being given to india is un-understandable. We have to let go these uncalled for prejudices and think for the collective well being of Pakistan. Don't forget the innumerable sacrifices offered by armed forces and better respect them.
Army is the mai-baap - how can't they not have an interest!!
Well the Army holds large commercial interests, so you cant say that they have no stake in the proceedings.