Waiting for Pakistan

India is right to be disappointed,but wrong to despair. It must also keep its side of the bargain

Written by The Indian Express | Published:February 16, 2012 3:51 am

India is right to be disappointed,but wrong to despair. It must also keep its side of the bargain

It’s not done,until it’s all done. This is particularly true of India-Pakistan relations,where done deals often unravel at the last moment. If we take into account the fragility of Indo-Pak relations,there would be little reason to write off Commerce Minister Anand Sharma’s on-going visit to Pakistan as a failure. After all,the first visit by India’s commerce minister to Pakistan since Independence is valuable in itself. New Delhi was indeed hoping that the Pakistani cabinet would make a historic announcement on trade liberalisation with India during Sharma’s visit. It did not come through because not “all stake holders” in Pakistan were on board,according to a top Pakistani spokesperson.

India is right to be disappointed,but wrong to despair. Since April last year,India has been actively negotiating with Pakistan an ambitious agenda for establishing normal trade relations. Pakistan’s civilian government has been an enthusiastic partner. Breaking a longstanding political taboo in Pakistan — which insisted that there can be no commerce with India until the Kashmir question is resolved — the government of Asif Ali Zardari was ready to deal. His cabinet approved a decision,in principle,to grant the Most-Favoured-Nation status to India last year,and promised to implement it step-by-step.

While appreciating the new approach,Delhi was acutely conscious of the political and other obstacles in Pakistan to free flow of commerce. The army was reportedly on board,but the extremist groups had mounted a powerful campaign against trade relations with India. Some sections of the business community remain deeply concerned about Indian goods flooding the Pakistani market. For the moment at least these reservations have prevailed. For India,patience is a virtue in dealing with Pakistan. As it waits,India must keep its side of the bargain. Delhi must dismantle all non-tariff barriers and reaffirm India’s strong commitment to a mutually beneficial economic partnership. The lesson from Sharma’s visit is that India needs to offer a lot more political reassurance to its partners in Pakistan. Sharma’s decision to take along a hoard of Indian businessmen eager to make money on the Pakistani market was perhaps not such a good idea.

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