What could possibly be the compelling reason on part of Pakistan to take a sharp U-turn from its immediately earlier decision leading to the federal cabinet reversing the thought considered to have been executed after due diligence? This surely calls for a visceral examination
It’s clearly evident that the House in Pakistan under Prime Minister Imran Khan is sharply divided. There was a flicker of hope noticed in February this year when due to robust back-channel diplomacy and restraint on part of the otherwise vocal critics of an Indo-Pak thaw, gave rise to chances of peace. The guns on the borders were thought to have fallen silent reducing the sense of attrition and warmongering clouds. The aggressive tenor also showed signs of disappearance. Global pacifists and the diplomatic community saw that peace was perhaps on the anvil.
This was further carried forward when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on the Pakistan National Day (March 23) hoping for cordial bilateral relations between the two neighbours. Imran Khan reciprocated articulating a similar tenor but wanted resolution of all mutual issues including Kashmir. This development again made the people on both sides hope that peace might dawn sooner than later and tranquil will prevail. This feeling got further boost when the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC), functional under Pakistan’s commerce ministry, decided last week to resume trade ties with India, suspended since 2019 and allowing to import sugar and cotton from India. Again, this was seen as a forward movement towards the amelioration of further normalcy between India and Pakistan.
Sadly, however, the Pakistani Federal Cabinet, in a hurriedly convened meeting, didn’t endorse the ECC decision and there was an outright reversal of decision on an import of sugar and cotton from Pakistan. This was a major setback to a hopeful peace process set in motion barely a month ago ostensibly to give peace a chance. There were other indicators too which made one reckon that at least peace efforts were put to test in all earnest. These include a visible tone-down on parts of the Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and other hawks in their rhetoric which were hitherto signalled acrimony. At the recently concluded Dushanbe meet also the Pakistan FM Qureshi chose to exercise restraint by not coming out with any anti-India remarks.
Under these circumstances, what could possibly be the compelling reason on part of Pakistan to take a sharp U-turn from its immediately earlier decision leading to the federal cabinet reversing the thought considered to have been executed after due diligence? This surely calls for a visceral examination.
Prime Minister Imran Khan defending the cabinet decision on the imports said on April 2 that resuming trade with India would signal a wrong impression on Kashmir and further expressed that until India reverses the august 5, 2019 decision of abrogating Article 370, the status quo will remain. It’s difficult to fathom how the matter of Kashmir is linked to resumption of trade ties? ECC had already decided.
On this, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf stated on April 2 that the ECC had only explored the commercial angle and merely recommended import of items like sugar and cotton. Final decision rested with the Federal Cabinet. ECC, he further clarified with faint arguments, was an apolitical body.
Judging by his afterthought statements, it would seem that there was a complete lack of coordination between the various ministries causing this volte-face. His defence was also weak when he said in defence that resumption of trade ties was strategically and politically untenable. This again seems far from being logical.
Judging by the rapid unfolding of these developments, it would appear that while PM Imran Khan had given a ‘go ahead’ for initiating the peace attempts, the hardliners within the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) must have prevailed over the decision and derailed the entire thing. Similarly, the religious extremists and the homegrown radicalised terror groups got the better of the political leadership in forcing the cabinet to reverse and reject the decision. Sadly again, it shows that the government in Pakistan is at the mercy of non-governmental ultra and extra-constitutional elements who are calling the shots. More crucially, they want to keep the Kashmir issue somehow alive by bringing it as a spanner in any move to restoring normalisation of relations.
Another factor dampening the prospects of peace efforts is a bunch of ministers within the cabinet. They include Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (surprising though, as he chose to be unprovocative at the recent Dushanbe meet towards his Indian counterpart), Interior Minister Sheikh Rasheed, another minister Shireen Mazari etc. These ministers, by deduction, must have reeled under their mentors from the ISI or religious extremist groups to rake up Kashmir mainly to divert attention from the core domestic ills that have afflicted Pakistan including the continued stay in the grey list in terror funding as ruled by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The poor economic condition and abysmal standing in the global community is also a major concern for Pakistan for which they continue to whip the Kashmir issue to be seen to remain alive in the domain of international politics though it’s highly illusory.
In a separate Pakistan related development, Prime Minister Imran Khan on April 2 expressed in a very despairing note that he was puzzled at what he described as cacophony over Pakistan not being invited to a conference on Climate Change. To prove his point, smattered with frustration, Imran Khan claimed that his government’s policies were driven solely by Pakistan’s commitment to its future generations of a clean and green Pakistan to mitigate the impact of Climate Change. To cover up the frustration arising out of a conspicuous exclusion, the Pakistan PM cited examples of a green Pakistan campaign and the 10 billion Tree Tsunami initiative. Imran’s statement came in the wake of US Climate Envoy John Kerry’s trips to Abu Dhabi, New Delhi and Dhaka from April 1 to April 9 in an attempt to slow the impact of global warming. Pakistan’s exclusion is seen as good as Pakistan being ignored on the critical issue of Climate Change. That’s obviously difficult to swallow. With such marginalisation, Pakistan could have done well by taking a step further in resuming trade ties with India instead of a forthright reversal of the imports if needed commodities. It would surely have marked a good beginning.