The federal cabinet has rejected a proposal to allow the import of sugar and cotton from India. The decision is more political than economic as the country is facing increasing domestic needs and rising prices of the essential commodities. The decision by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) chaired by newly-appointed Finance Minister Hammad Azhar had raised eyebrows as the government has suspended ties with India nearly 19 months ago. The government had stopped trade after New Delhi revoked the autonomous status of occupied Kashmir in August 2019 and imposed a debilitating blockade. Subsequently, Pakistan imposed a raft of decisions and downgraded diplomatic relations.
The Prime Minister is understood to have backed the lifting of ban on the imports from India as the summaries forwarded by the ECC for cabinet approval had already earned a go-ahead from the Prime Minister, who is also the Minister-in-Charge of Commerce and Textile. While the opposition calls the cabinet rejection a measure of no-confidence in the Prime Minister by his team of ministers, political commentators are appreciating the Prime Minster for accommodating the viewpoint of his cabinet colleagues and taking decision on an issue of national importance through consensus.
The cabinet may have been catering to popular sentiments, but the decision is grounded in the longstanding principle that guides Pakistan’s ties with India. Pakistan has all along been insisting that Kashmir is the major cause of its contention with India and once this longstanding problem is solved, all other outstanding issues will vanish automatically. India, on the other hand, emphasises on starting off with confidence building measures — like people-to-people contact, sports engagements, and business and trade — to normalise the relations slowly and gradually before taking up the core issue of Kashmir — and that too in the context of Kashmiri “terrorists”. A revival of trade ties with India through the import of sugar and cotton would have meant Pakistan succumbing to the Indian stance.
If the government does not want to reconsider its decision, then it must chalk out a plan to enhance Pakistan’s production capabilities in sugar and cotton production. To achieve self-sufficiency in producing these crops, the government must offer the farmers incentives. While the decision to do reject this proposal is grounded on a principle stance, the government’s recent attitude regarding India has been confusing. It is clear that the Kashmir issue must always remain a key priority, but announcements on trade with India followed by a quick rejection of the proposal only keeps where we stand unclear. If the resumption of ties can lead to addressing the Kashmir issue, perhaps trade should be an option to consider.