Pakistan freezes plan to open imports from India

Pakistan freezes plan to open imports from India

‘Deferred’ decision links any ‘normalisation’ in ties to moves by New Delhi on Jammu and Kashmir.

Just a day after announcing plans to open imports of cotton and sugar from India, Pakistan’s government said it was “deferring” the decision and linked any “normalisation” in ties to moves by New Delhi on Jammu and Kashmir. The U-turn was seen as an embarrassment for the Imran Khan government, and in particular for the newly appointed Finance Minister Hammad Azhar, who had addressed a press conference on Wednesday announcing clearances by the Economic Coordination Council (ECC) for imports from India, which have been suspended since August 2019.

Significantly, Mr. Khan holds the Commerce Ministry portfolio in his Cabinet, which is the Ministry that moved the proposal at the ECC on Wednesday. Speaking to the media earlier, Mr. Azhar had said that the move was a commercially-based need for Indian sugar and cotton due to high prices and low yield in Pakistan last year. The reversal of the ECC’s decision, on Thursday was announced by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who said in a taped video statement, that the matter needed “further debate”. 

“An impression was emerging that ties with India are moving towards normalisation and trade has been opened. We had a discussion on this, and the unanimous view of the Cabinet was that until the unilateral decisions taken by India on August 5, 2019 are not reconsidered, it would be impossible to normalise relations with India,” Mr. Qureshi said. 

According to media reports in Pakistan, Mr. Qureshi, along with Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid and Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, were most vocal in their opposition to re-opening trade with India. Ms. Mazaari had tweeted against the decision on Indian imports hours before the Cabinet meeting, indicating that there were differences within the Cabinet over the imports. 

“Cabinet stated clearly NO trade with India,” Ms. Mazaari emphasised in a tweet after the meeting on Thursday, referring to India’s “illegal actions” in Jammu and Kashmir. Mr. Rashid told the media that India’s decision to overturn Article 370 of the Constitution was the precondition for any engagement. 

While New Delhi has made it clear it will not reverse decisions on Article 370 from a slew of measures taken in August 2019, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have publicly said that the Statehood of Jammu and Kashmir, which has been downgraded to a Union Territory at present, would be restored at an “appropriate” time. 

The Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment, both on the earlier decision to open imports, and the latest one to defer any easing of trade ties. 

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