The two-day seventh round of commerce-secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan began on Thursday in Islamabad, ending as scheduled with the signing of various accords between the two sides. However, while Pakistan is going into these talks with alacrity, India has shown no sign of wanting to solve the Kashmir issue, and Pakistan continues to be willing to hold talks with India without any attempt to resolve the Kashmir issue, as on this occasion. This has two consequences, neither of which this government could want. First, it tells the world that Pakistan can talk to India without even talking about the Kashmir issue, let alone resolving it. Pakistan can rest assured that India will play this up as much as it can, and wherever. Second, it tells India itself that it can afford to wait out Pakistan, which will eventually come round to discussing those issues which interest it, like trade, at the expense of those it wants to avoid, like Kashmir.
A clue to why India wants to talk about trade can be obtained from the talks that occurred. The talks are now mainly a follow-up of the Pakistani decision to grant India Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status, but the main discussion centered on the non-tariff barriers India has placed. India is following the outdated mercantilist policy, and wishes to destroy Pakistan’s industry and commerce, ensuring that it itself is protected by trade barriers. At the very least, Pakistan must ensure that India abolishes these barriers, and provides a level playing field to Pakistani entrepreneurs. Unless that is done, the planned abolition of the negative list of 1209 items by year-end will only have one result. The agreements signed on Friday, including ones on customs cooperation, mutual recognition of required standards and a grievance-resolution mechanism, merely go to show how India wishes to exploit Pakistan in the field of trade.
Pakistan should not take decisions to please anyone, and should not allow the irrational desires of one power to influence its relations with a third, especially one with which it has such a basic dispute as it does with India over Kashmir. It must reverse the MFN decision, and it will see how fast India acts to resile from the agreements it has just signed. Above all, it must make sure it does not sacrifice abiding national interests, like the Kashmir cause, or the very survival of the country’s industry and commerce, merely to win the approval of some external power.