Friday, May 22, 2015

Afraid of free trade

Diplomacy in South Asia is given over to give-no-quarter bureaucrats, who cleave to a nationalism that continues to trump economics.

Both sides have to talk on the whole spectrum of issues and all problems to make the peace process more sustainable, Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said. The SAFTA agreement that both countries signed contains Article 8, which refers to the “removal of intra-SAARC barriers to investment.
Written by Khaled Ahmed | Updated: April 25, 2014 12:38 am

is cakes and ale compared to the “monoculture” of Pakistani nationalism as interpreted by the clergy and the army. Those who are scared of it call it Talibanisation.

There is no honour in heroic isolation. The pinnacle of isolation is martyrdom. Free trade may be dishonourable but it avoids death and stops poverty. Nothing is more dishonourable than poverty.

My favourite economist-philosopher, Ijaz Nabi, recently wrote: “Critically, without normalising trade with India, the Indus Basin would be a T-junction circumscribing the welfare gains from regional integration rather than a crossroads of economic transactions. Recent studies show that bilateral trade could be as high as US $10 billion.”

The irony is that if you hate someone you become like him. There is nothing original in this; India’s Gandhi had a creed based on this dictum. If India starts thinking the same way as Pakistan and allows things to slide, then there will be the fallout of Pakistan’s implosion to cope with. Islamabad should go ahead with the MFN, sign and ratify free trade and free movement of people and finance, and leave the bilateral haggling over tariff and non-tariff barriers for the coming years.

But diplomacy is operated in South Asia by a give-no-quarter bunch of bureaucrats who cleave to a nationalism that continues to trump economics. Pakistan is under obligation to change its stance, make ground-breaking decisions and get them approved through statesmanship. But its diplomats stay close to the military, its sense of unrequited grievance and, without knowing it, the non-state actors. National interest rather than “reciprocity” should guide Pakistan’s decisions about trade with India.

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

First Published on: April 25, 2014 12:12 amSingle Page Format
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