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Curious Case of Trade Ties: Commerce Minister Imran Khan Proposes, Prime Minister Imran Khan Disposes

File photo of Pakistan PM Imran Khan.

File photo of Pakistan PM Imran Khan.

Imran Khan, as the commerce minister, reviewed recommendations of a panel for resumption of trade ties with India. Six days later, Khan, as the PM, stopped the move.

That Pakistan has refused a forward step in bilateral ties by rejecting the resumption of sugar and cotton imports from India despite a government committee’s approval for the same has already generated media debates.

However, the U-turn features an interesting twist. According to an exclusive document accessed by News18, it was Imran Khan who, as the commerce minister, reviewed recommendations of the Cabinet’s Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) in favour of limited resumption of trade ties with India on March 26. And it was none other than Khan who, as the prime minister, stonewalled the move six days later.

“…ECC of the Cabinet is requested to approve the following proposals,” the document said. It went on to add that the import of white sugar “may be allowed by TCP and private sector” through “land and sea routes”, and that commercial “importers may also be allowed to import of 300,000 MT from India till 30-06-2021 on the basis of quota issued by ministry of commerce…”

The document, dated March 26, said the proposal was seen by Khan. “The Honorable Prime Minister in his capacity as Minister-in-Charge for commerce has seen and authorized the submission of the summary to the ECC of the cabinet after adding criteria for allocation of quota to commercial importers…” it added.

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But on Thursday (April 1), Khan, during a meeting of the Cabinet, rejected the ECC recommendations, dealing a blow to hopes of gradual normalisation of ties.

On Friday, he held a high-level meeting to discuss the future of bilateral relations, concluding that trade ties between the neighbouring countries cannot resume if New Delhi did not restore Article 370, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. According to sources, Khan added in this meeting that the restoration of trade ties would give a “wrong impression to the people of Kashmir”.

Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who was a part of the Cabinet meeting as well as Friday’s discussions, too, has said “relations between India and Pakistan can never become normal till India does not reconsider its decision of August 5, 2019 of Article 370”.

The development underscores that Pakistan’s deep state has once again prevailed in scuttling a forward step in the frosty bilateral relations, even though the ice was thought be melting after the two sides agreed to a ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) on February 25.

Sources in Pakistan say that country has been facing a shortage of sugar and cotton, and that people are buying sugar at exorbitant prices. Resumption of import from India could have helped bring down the prices and provide relief to the common man. But that hope was dashed as well with Islamabad playing the Kashmir card.