At a time when hopes of a thaw in trade ties between India and Pakistan were high, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a diplomatic cable from Islamabad’s high commission stalled the government’s attempt to convince the security establishment in the country on the issue.
Commenting on the development, a cabinet minister said that the BJP, the hardline Hindu nationalist party, was of the view that any deal before the general elections would favour the outgoing Congress government.
The minister revealed that Pakistan’s High Commission in New Delhi gave the same advice through a diplomatic cable that arrived just twelve hours before a scheduled cabinet meeting. He said the diplomatic cable left no option but to cancel the cabinet meeting, which had been convened to approve trade concessions package with India.
When contacted, Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to Prime Minister on Security and Foreign Affairs said, “It (cable) is our internal communication and we do not want to comment on it.”
The cabinet meeting was convened on March 28 to approve Non-Discriminatory Market Access on Reciprocal Basis (NDMARB) status for India, a term coined to alter opposition to Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status. Interestingly, both sides had agreed to simultaneously announce the trade concessions on March 31.
But the cabinet meeting was called off. The media reports suggested that the security establishment was not in favour of separating the trade issue from other outstanding issues between the two arch-rivals.
Subsequently, a visit by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to GHQ also remained fruitless. However, the government later denied that Dar visited the military headquarters.
Since BJP bludgeoned its way to election victory in May, the party has sent positive signals and has expressed its determination to discuss the outstanding trade issues.
The government has provoked a debate on the question whether economic diplomacy should be given preference over the other agendas of the country’s foreign policy, said Khurram Dastgir while responding to a question on his government’s foreign policy priorities.
Dastgir said there were perennial issues between India and Pakistan but it does not mean that both sides should keep their borders closed for trade.
The commerce and trade ministers of member countries of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) are due to meet in Bhutan this month to discuss progress on South Asia Free Trade Agreement. It is expected that trade ministers of both India and Pakistan will meet and discuss a plan to implement the March 2014 understanding on trade deal.
However, Federal Minister for Commerce Khurram Dastgir said that so far no sideline meeting has been planned.
In March this year, Pakistan and India were very close to clinching a deal on complete trade normalisation after New Delhi accepted Islamabad’s demand to remove textile products from its prohibitive list.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2014.
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