Pakistan does U-turn on resuming trade ties with India
Pakistan on Thursday did a U-turn on a move for limited resumption of trade with India, as a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan rejected a government panel’s decision to allow imports of sugar and cotton from the neighbouring country.
The meeting rejected the decision made on Wednesday by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet to allow imports of the two commodities to control prices and overcome a shortage, the Pakistani media reported citing sources.
There was no official word on the development from the Pakistan government. The reasons for the sudden change could not immediately be ascertained.
The ECC’s decision, if implemented, would have led to resumption of trade between the two countries after almost two years. Pakistan had unilaterally suspended trade with India in August 2019 after New Delhi scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.
The Pakistani flip-flop came hours after human rights minister Shireen Mazari, known for her anti-India stance, tweeted that all decisions made by the ECC have to be approved by the Cabinet.
“Just for the record – All ECC decisions have to be approved by cabinet & only then they can be seen as ‘approved by govt’! So today in the cabinet there will be a discussion on ECC decisions including trade with India and then the government decision will be taken!” Mazari said in her tweet.
On Wednesday, Pakistan’s new finance minister Hammad Azhar had announced the decision to import cotton and sugar from India and defended the move in the face of questions from the media.
The green signal for the imports was earlier seen in the context of a thaw in relations between New Delhi and Islamabad after the armies of the two sides recommitted themselves to a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir last month.
Azhar, who was appointed finance minister by Prime Minister Khan only on Tuesday, told a news conference in Islamabad the imports would allow Pakistan to cope with the rising price of sugar and a shortage of cotton.
The ECC had approved imports of up to 500,000 tonnes of sugar by the private sector and also allowed imports of cotton up to the end of June to meet the needs of small and medium enterprises.
Azhar had sidestepped a question from a reporter on the resumption of trade ties with India without addressing the Kashmir issue by saying: “If the burden on the ordinary man is reduced by trading with some country, there is no loss in it.”
Trade between India and Pakistan has invariably taken a hit whenever tensions spike between the countries, and this was also case when the 2019 Pulwama suicide attack triggered a military standoff.
The move by the Indian and Pakistani armies to strictly adhere to the ceasefire on the LoC from February 25 was the outcome of behind-the-scenes contacts between the two sides and led to a thaw in relations.
In recent weeks, Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa has spoken of the need to “bury the past and move forward”, while Prime Minister Khan has said India will have to take the first step for improving ties by addressing Kashmir, the only issue standing in the way of better relations.