The government needs to decide the matter of trade with India by using the mind, instead of the heart, as the stalled bilateral trade with India has bled the economy. The issue hit the media headlines after reports started doing the rounds that the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) has decided to resume trade with the rival neighbouring country in the best interests of the country. The opposition was quick to criticise the coalition government of Shehbaz Sharif for “ditching the cause of Kashmir”. The speculations gained ground after the federal government appointed a trader in the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi. Though filling the post, which has been vacant for years, it, however, alerted the opposition, led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which saw it as a step towards the resumption of bilateral trade with India. Pakistan scrapped all sorts of trade with the hostile neighbour unilaterally and also downgraded diplomatic relations in August 2019, after the Indian government withdrew constitutional clauses about the autonomy and special status of the Illegally Occupied Kashmir. The step of ending trade with India was welcomed by the people of Pakistan and Kashmir, who saw it as a befitting response to the hostile Indian actions. Besides this, the Pakistani government raised the issue of Kashmiris’ rights at every available international forum.
As the time went by, Pakistan, without withdrawing its position on the Kashmir status, started working on the resumption of bilateral trade with India, and in 2021, then-national security adviser Moeed Yousuf reportedly discussed some proposals regarding trade with India at high-level meetings, while then commerce adviser Razak Dawood openly spoke in favour of going for trade with India on several occasions. There were reports that business tycoon Mian Mansha was also working in backdoor channels with Indian counterparts on trade terms, and that he had the blessing of the Imran government for the initiatives. Not only this, the Economic Coordination Committee allowed in March 2021 the private sector to import 500,000 tonnes of white sugar from India and cotton via the Wagah border. The decision fell victim to the politicization of the economy, forcing the government to withdraw the announcement after vehement opposition from the leading opposition parties, such as the PPP and the PML-N. Now, both sides have switched positions, as the government party of yesterday is opposing the decision by the government of today to start trade with India. During the Covid pandemic peak time, Pakistan has been importing essential life-saving drugs from India, without much criticism from the opposition.
Pakistan and India have a small trade volume, thanks to the hostile policies by the Indian government towards Pakistan and the Muslims living in India. Pakistan’s exports to India stand at $1.006 million from July 2021 to March 2022, while imports from India stand at $139.334 million in the first nine months of this year. The dispute in Kashmir, which stems from India’s refusal to oblige the UN resolutions on Kashmiri’s right to self-determination, has plagued the peace of the region. Meanwhile, Pakistan should resume trade with India, which will allow people-to-people interactions, and the enhanced level of trade will not benefit both countries but will prepare a ground for dialogue between the two governments to resolve bilateral issues, with Kashmir being on the top. The government should go ahead with the Indian trade plan, without compromising on the Kashmir issue. Also, Pakistan should also keep on doing routine postings in the embassy in New Delhi and get ready for a diplomatic onslaught against India on the Kashmir issue.