Our cargo cults

Published: December 3, 2011

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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. 

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Malik
    Dec 3, 2011 - 10:59PM

    very well constructed article. enjoyed reading. thanx


  • Deeda
    Dec 3, 2011 - 11:23PM

    hahaha @’Most Favourite Nation’!
    Intresting read :)


  • Usman
    Dec 4, 2011 - 12:19AM

    Interesting article…Enjoyed reading it!!


  • faraz
    Dec 4, 2011 - 1:45AM

    I wish we shared borders with Taiwan. We could have started dumping strategic assets into Taiwan to earn Chinese Yuan. Can we air drop strategic assets into Taiwan?


  • gt
    Dec 4, 2011 - 2:52AM

    “Most Favored Nation” is one of those archaic terms peculiar to [and carried over from] British law and the language of treaties. Much of this syntax developed between the 1600s-1800s. English usage has changed since then.

    MFN should be altered to Minimum Trading Protocol or Regulation. A similar term is used by the USA. It denotes the minimum, basic set of rules that nations joining the WTO observe with respect to each other.

    Both Pakistan and India are members of the WTO. India already has extended the MFN to Pakistan, the Basic Trade Protocol required by WTO members, 15 years ago. Pakistan today is ONLY doing what it is OBLIGATED by its WTO membership, and has neglected to for 15 years.

    Pakistan is not doing any favors to anyone. Quite the opposite. Pakistan requests favors from India, Bangladesh and several WTO countries to suspend their objections to special provisions being made to Pakistan by EU countries for cotton fabrics. To seek to work within the WTO framework and derive advantages from it, and yet violate its basic provisions on pure whim when convenient, is something that Pakistan must consider with some HONEST introspection.

    Had India et.al. blocked Pakistan’s special demand at the EU, then there would have been an uproar. The point is, one cannot work both ends against the middle. The Pakistani public is used as a shouting gallery to achieve wicked, immoral ends by a small elite, and this public can never bring itself to honestly introspect the actual issues being debated. Everyone is ALWAYS wrong, only the Pakistani leaders’ point of view is the correct one. Eventually, Pakistan will be left thoroughly isolated because of an exaggerated and inaccurate sense of its place in world affairs. It is called OVERREACH.


  • Arindom
    Dec 4, 2011 - 3:13AM

    The effect of all those establishment-printed school textbooks preaching a ‘hate-India’ theme has been exposed by this silly MFN-issue.


  • Syed Hussein El-Edroos
    Dec 4, 2011 - 2:29PM

    “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.”

    Yes WTO should have invested in a dictionary. One silly mistake back then, causing big problems today.


  • Jack
    Dec 4, 2011 - 2:36PM

    The good thing about Pakistan is that you come up with a new crisis in very short order, taking the pressure off the previous one. Which is good, because trade once begun can be carried out with low visibility to these fringe elements, but the fruits – increased prosperity, hopefully better security climate (as the stakes rise) will be felt by many. But I agree that MFN is a pretty silly term – and Pak may have given it to India long back if it was called DTA Discriminatory Tarriff Abrogation or something that sounded even worse when translated into Urdu :).


  • Nasir
    Dec 4, 2011 - 5:58PM

    Giving MFN to India/ Pakistan is nothing unless both sides reduce tariff barriers and other hurdles in trade. MFN given to Pakistan by India 15 years age was only a symbolic decision as there were no tariff concessions to Pakistan. Both countries are discussing it now when Pakistan initiated the process.


  • Parvez
    Dec 5, 2011 - 1:12PM

    Enjoyed reading this. With the quality of leadership we have one can not expect much.
    Pity the country that suffers from not knowing what has to be done and pity them some more if they do and don’t know how to do it.


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