Pakistan’s U-Turn On Trade With India Reflects Imran Khan’s Trouble

Pakistan’s economy is in the doldrums. The country is facing several economic sanctions and the situation has become worse by the coronavirus pandemic. Lately, Pakistan’s PM and Army Chief have been soft on India, indicating a better future of Indo-Pak relations.

The Ganga Times, Islamabad: A few days back, when Pakistan’s finance minister Hammad Azhar announced that his country will partially restore trade ties with India, it was seen as a welcome step towards bettering bilateral ties between the two nations. The two sides have been exchanging positivity lately. But just as the situation started looking good, Pakistan has shot itself in the foot by making a swift U-turn on the plans.

The earlier decision to allow limited imports of sugar, cotton and wheat from India has been rolled back in less than 24 hours following a political backlash. Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told Pakistan cannot trade with India until Kashmir’s special status is restored. Islamabad suspended trade and diplomatic ties with India in 2019 after the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

Imran Khan Government Divided on Restoring Trade Ties With India

It is worth noting that the backlash in Pakistan was from members of the cabinet and not much from the public. Human Rights minister Shireen Mazari was among the first to react on the move by saying that the decision by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) didn’t have green signal from the whole Cabinet. When all Pakistan needs is better ties with India, a larger debate is going on in Islamabad is on the changes made by New Delhi in Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in August 2019.

It has been learned that the two war-mongering faces in the Imran Khan government — interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi are leading the resistance in Ind-Pak ties. Experts believe that this latest fiasco reflects divisions within the Imran Khan government, especially on relations with India. What’s noteworthy in the current scenario is that it’s the Pakistani Army who supports boosting up ties with India, as reflected by the revival of the 2003 ceasefire on the LoC on February 25.

Pak Army Chief and PM on Same Page in Improving Ties With India

Pak Army Chief and PM on Same Page in Improving Ties With India (Courtesy: ARY News)

Pak Army Chief Qamar Bajwa, in February, talked about the need to “bury the past and move forward” at Islamabad Security Dialogue. Even Imran Khan’s tone was soft towards India. However, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi gave a hawkish speech. According to sources, Qureshi is angry with the Imran Khan Government and Army establishment as he wasn’t consulted before the ceasefire announcement.

Not just a few members of the cabinet, but many within the Army setup are also uncomfortable about the decision. There has been an adverse reaction in some segments of the Pakistani media, riding on public sentiment. Other way of looking at the situation is a possibility that the PM and Army Chief buying time to deal with the Qureshi-gang. Remember, the Economic Committee’s decision has not yet been rejected.

Next few weeks are going to be extremely crucial for the possibility of peace in South Asia. It all depends on the acuity of Pakistani decision-makers and the back-door diplomacy between the two nuclear-armed nations.

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