No change in trade policy with India: Commerce Ministry

Shah Mehmood Qureshi says goverment must reconsider trade ties with India as it can hurt sentiments of Kashmiris

The Ministry of Commerce has said that there is no change in Pakistan’s policy on trade with India, a statement issued by the ministry said on Wednesday.

According to the statement, the commerce ministry managed 57 trade missions in 46 countries, including the post of minister for trade and investment in New Delhi, India.

“The post in New Delhi exists for more than two decades and has no connection with the operationalisation of trade with India or otherwise in the current context,” it explained.

The development has led to speculations that the new government had decided to restore bilateral trade with India that has remained suspended since August 2019 when New Delhi revoked the special status of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region.

The ministry further noted that the current cycle for selection of Trade and Investment Officers (TIOs) including for New Delhi was initiated in December 2021 and the final recommendations of the interview board were sent to the prime minister’s office on April 1, i.e. during the previous government’s term.

The incumbent government has given the final approval to the recommendations of the previous regime for the selection of 15 TIOs.

The appointment, therefore, may not be seen in the context of any relaxation of trade restrictions with India.

Pakistan suspended bilateral trade with India as part of a series of measures to downgrade ties with the neighbouring country after the Narendra Modi government unilaterally changed the special status of the disputed Kashmir region.

The government of former prime minister Imran Khan at one point did consider partially restoring bilateral trade with India as a result of back-channel diplomacy, which led to the renewal of ceasefire understanding along the Line of Control (LoC). The truce was renewed in February 2021 and is still holding.

As part of the confidence-building measures, the two sides were to gradually restore bilateral trade and Imran Khan, in charge of the commerce ministry, did give a go-ahead to import sugar and cotton from India. The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) also approved the decision but the federal cabinet blocked it fearing the public backlash.

The development is believed to have been seen as a setback to back-channel efforts seeking rapprochement between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.

Meanwhile, PTI vice-chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi has said that the government should reconsider their decision to trade with India as “it can hurt the sentiments of our Kashmiri brothers.”

The former foreign minister said that they have come to know that the government wants to resume trade with India and appoint a commerce officer in India. The federal government should review their decision to trade with India as it can damage the cause of Kashmir, he said.

He said that the actions by India and the Modi government on August 5 2019 were blatant violations of United Nations’ resolutions. Bilawal Bhutto’s silence over the issue is questionable; the government did not even take the Kashmir parliament into confidence before making the decision, he said.

On one hand, cultivators of Sindh have been deprived of their water and on the other India has initiated another project over the Chenab River, Qureshi said.

“Our foreign minister, rather than addressing this issue, is paying visits to America. Bilawal Bhutto should raise his voice against the Indian violation of the Sindh Taas pact internationally,” he added.

Qureshi said that there were eight attacks on the Al-Aqsa mosque in the holy month of Ramazan, and unarmed Palestinians were shot by Israeli forces, did the foreign minister respond to them? He said that Pakistan is suffering from water shortages but India refuses to talk about the issue with Pakistan.