AP/ Hammad Azhar (Facebook)
In a major U-turn on Thursday, the Pakistan Cabinet rejected the proposal of the Economic Coordination Committee to import sugar, cotton and yarn from India. According to Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, this decision was deferred until India restores Article 370 of the Constitution, which guaranteed special status for Jammu and Kashmir. Escalating matters further, Pakistan Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari linked the abrogation of Article 370 to the normalization of relations with India.
Maintaining that the Cabinet was unwilling to approve trade ties with India, she quoted Pakistan PM Imran Khan as saying that there can be no normalization of relations until the Parliament's steps pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir are reversed. The neighbouring country's move has raised eyebrows as Khan is also the in-charge of the Ministry of Commerce and Textiles, which approved the summaries for import for cotton, sugar, and yarn to be placed before the ECC for clearance. This implies that the PTI chairman was in favour of lifting the ban on the import of these items from India.
The federal cabinet rejects an Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) proposal to import cotton and sugar from India. The rejection comes a day after the ECC gave a go-ahead to the import of cotton, cotton yarn and sugar from the neighbouring country: Pakistan media— ANI (@ANI) April 1, 2021
Addressing a press briefing a day earlier, newly appointed Pakistan Finance Minister Hammad Azhar announced that his country had decided to resume the import of sugar, cotton and yarn from India through land and sea routes. Explaining the rationale for this move, Azhar stated that the price of sugar in India was much cheaper than in Pakistan thereby allowing the commercial import of 5,00,000 tonnes of white sugar. Moreover, he added that the import of cotton and yarn would facilitate small textile industries in the country. The Pakistani media quoted him as saying that these decisions were "in the interest of the people".
The Pakistan government's latest move comes on the background of a thaw in the relationship between the two countries. For instance, Imran Khan called for resolving differences with India via dialogue. This was during his maiden visit to Sri Lanka where he addressed the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Trade and Investment Conference on February 24. Claiming that he had unsuccessfully attempted to diffuse tensions in the bilateral relationship after assuming power in 2018, he stressed the need to improve trading ties with India. In a joint statement issued a day later, the Director Generals of Military Operations of both countries agreed to strictly observe all agreements and stop firing from February 25.
However, the Indian Army affirmed that it remains vigilant in the wake of relentless ceasefire violations by Pakistan in the past. This will also not impact counter-terrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir. Softening the brash tone further, Imran Khan told participants at the recently held Islamabad Security Dialogue that India can benefit from more trade and connectivity to Central Asia if both nations resolve their issues. Speaking at the same event, Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa stressed that it is time to bury the past and move forward.