Pakistan on Thursday said a consensus is being built among all stakeholders to strike a deal on liberalised trade with India, underlining that bilateral ties should move forward “holistically and not in bits and pieces”.
A crucial cabinet meeting, set to discuss and approve the long-pending Non Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA) to India last Friday, was put off at the last moment.
The Foreign Office denied it wants its own pound of flesh and is pushing for resumption of composite dialogue before granting NDMA status to India.
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“We have not said that trade has linkages. We have not said that if progress does not happen on this, we will not do trade. If trade benefits us then why not but yes, realistically, we have to have a movement on all issues so that this process, this relationship moves forward in a positive direction,” Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam told PTI in an interview here.
She said the bilateral ties have to move forward “holistically, not in bits and pieces where one incident or
one change can upset everything. You have to make this process durable, you have to make this process sustainable”.
“People-to-people contact being limited, taking place off and on. One working group meeting and discussing this and that but not a whole integrated approach to relationship. That is needed because that makes it durable, that makes it sustainable.
“Obviously, some issues would move faster and some won’t move that fast,” Aslam said.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had said the decision of granting NDMA status to India was put off due to “lack of consensus”.
“We also deferred this due to the elections in India because we did not want to favour a single political party in India,” he said during his recent visit to The Hague.
Commerce Minister Ghulam Dastagir echoed similar thoughts in Lahore.
The Foreign Office in Islamabad has for quite some time advised the government that it would not be prudent for Pakistan to give such a major political concession to the present Indian government “which is on its way out, and instead give this concession to the incoming one”.
The prime minister finally agreed, though initially he opposed this advice, The News daily reported, citing
Asked if Foreign Office has decided Pakistan will only sign trade agreement with the new government in New Delhi, Aslam said, “new government, old government is India’s internal affairs. As I told you, that process is continuing (here)”.
She argued the process could have been expedited since there was an understanding both countries came to on the sidelines of the SAARC business conclave in January.
“There was an understanding. When that was committed in writing, some of the things that were related to Pakistan’s concerns and were agreed to did not figure in the written form.
“So there were clarifications, then response and then further contact. That in a way prolonged the process. It delayed it by almost two months,” she said.
Aslam underlined that granting of NDMA status will be in consultation with all stakeholders.
“Even within one organisation, many can have different views as is the case everywhere. But then you evolve a consensus. Something that is acceptable to everyone,” she said.
The spokesperson said trade is carried out by people because they think it serves their interests.
“It is not a charity one country gives to another. All over the world, you have trade because you think that your country, your industry, your people will benefit. India’s motives for trade with Pakistan would be the same. Our motives for trade with India would be the same,” she said.
Aslam stressed there are many stakeholders, including political parties and “institutions”, besides those who will actually trade.
“For example, some people in textiles were in the process of consultation. There were people who said yes we will benefit, others were of the view that we will not benefit.
“Agriculture sector has reservation because in India, agriculture is heavily subsidised. Electricity, water, fertiliser, all the factors that go into it are heavily subsidised. It is not subsidised in Pakistan that way… they have concerns,” she said.
Aslam said there are certain sectors which think they will benefit and they want trade quickly while there are others who say concerns must be met.
“So what do you do? You engage with them. Take their concerns on board and both countries discuss. And then you try to meet somewhere in the middle ground where both feel that yes there has to be give and take because it is not and should not become one-way traffic,” she said.