Eleventh-hour hiccup: BJP, diplomatic cable stalled India trade deal

Both countries had agreed to announce trade concessions on March 31.

Shahbaz Rana July 04, 2014


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.


asma tanoli | 7 years ago | Reply

By not normalizing trade with India, Pakistan is hurting its own economy. Pakistan's military has to realize that their huge budget can only be sustained if Pakistan can make some savings by importing cheaper raw materials and energy from India. It is a folly to think that Pakistan will be extending a favour if it normalized trade.

Gp65 | 7 years ago | Reply

ET mods- someone has written to me. i am giving a pointwise rebuttal.

@Bewildered: India does have an excellent track record of fulfilling its promises. One perfect example is honoring the Indus Water Treaties even during wars.

Now on to the 2 points you mentioned: 1) Plebiscite- please read the UN resolution first. What is the first requirement? That Pakistan withdraws its army from the area it occupies. Please note a reciprocal withdrawal of Imdian army is NOT required. Pakistan has never done that.

2) Siachen. - the LoC was defined as NJ9842 and thence North to the laciers. Siachen is on the Indian side of Siachen. All that India did is o premtively prevent Pakistan from occupying its side of the glacier when plans of Pakistani military to occupy Siachen were found out through Indian intelligence.

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