MFN status for India: Cabinet decision trumps all fears, Khar asserts

Published: November 6, 2011
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Says no backtracking on approval for engaging with India. PHOTO: PID/FILE

Says no backtracking on approval for engaging with India. PHOTO: PID/FILE

LAHORE/NEW DELHI: 

First it was opposition at home. Now it’s scepticism abroad.

But Pakistan’s civilian leadership is standing firm behind its decision to allow the commerce ministry to engage with India on normalisation of bilateral trade relations, and the eventual granting of the most favoured nation (MFN) status.

“There is absolutely no question of backtracking on the cabinet’s approval of trade normalisation with India,” Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said on Saturday. “I want to completely dismiss any indication that there’s any retraction on what we said.”

Earlier on Friday, an unnamed Indian government official alleged that Islamabad was “backtracking” on the issue in the face of domestic opposition. Many in Pakistan were also sceptical of the cabinet’s approval for such a move, especially after reports of dissent from the military, perceived to be the prime stakeholders in Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Khar, however, dispelled such an impression at a press conference in Lahore on Saturday and said the cabinet’s decision trumps the military’s perceived apprehensions in this regard.

Refuting the news of an emergency meeting with the military at the foreign office, Khar said it was a scheduled meeting with military’s representatives who are important stakeholders on the issue nonetheless.

Gilani backs Khar

Khar was backed by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani who stressed that the cabinet’s approval is necessary for any negotiations with another country and that is precisely what it had provided to the commerce ministry vis-à-vis trade normalisation with India and granting it the MFN status.

The MFN is not a document or a certificate, Gilani said separately on Saturday.

It is a proposal which the commerce ministry would work on with its Indian counterpart, he added.

The two countries’ commerce secretaries will meet mid-November to hammer out the details of the trade agreement, including removal of discriminatory tariffs and non-tariff barriers.

‘Tangible progress’ with India

Khar said the move comes following tangible progress in relations with India.

India’s support to Pakistan in gaining a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council and removal of its blockade at the World Trade Organisation for Pakistan’s preferential access to the European Union markets were cited by Khar as tangible confidence-building measures between the two countries.

Prime Minister Gilani would meet his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh at the Saarc summit in Male next week and further discuss the ongoing dialogue process, she added.

The scepticism across the border also appeared to soothe on Saturday with Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai saying the Cabinet decision on MFN is an “indication of forward movement.”

He did urge patience though.

“The actual implementation [of MFN] would be a culmination of the normalisation process which could take some time,” Mathai told reporters in New Delhi. Pakistan’s commerce secretary, however, was more upbeat.

“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,” Zafar Mahmood told reporters. “We will finalise all the details in that meeting.”

(With additional input from AFP and Reuters)

Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (5)

  • Joke
    Nov 6, 2011 - 2:12PM

    this is becoming a joke now

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  • Khurram
    Nov 6, 2011 - 8:39PM

    Mr. Prime Minister and Madam Foreign Minister as I had said in one of my previous comments, “please refrain from promising anything when the government in power does not have the moral courage and political acumen to deliver”. We are not doing any favours to India by bestowing MFN status on her it is actually incumbent upon us to grant such status under the trade agreement we are signatories to especially when the other party (India) has already performed her part by granting it to us quite sometime ago. It is high time we quit beating about the bush and tell the truth as it is that we do not rule the roost when it comes to improving relations with India.

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  • fahim
    Nov 6, 2011 - 8:49PM

    we are the laughing stock of the world… confusion is what we are married to since birth… there is no surprise here.

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  • Dr.A.K. Tewari
    Nov 6, 2011 - 10:28PM

    MFN a positive move ….!

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  • Khurram
    Nov 6, 2011 - 11:32PM

    @Fahim: As far as being the laughing stock of the world is concerned I tend to agree with you because we have proven ourselves to be such a thing time and again since our very inception, but regarding confusion, its root cause lies somewhere else, there is some sincerity in the statements coming from the Cabinet, Ministry of Commerce and Foreign Affairs, these are somewhat confusing owing to the one and only reason because the Government markedly lacks the capacity and power to overrule the GHQ’s objections. We all know that Khakis will be the first causality of Peace with India and we also know the excuses Khakis to stop the peace process are not only irrelevant but completely fictional. It does not bother them at all whether the country in dumps as long as the Manna supplied by Uncle Sam keeps falling on them.

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