Who Benefits From Pakistan's 'Kashmir Policy'?
14 December 2004
The News International
Fakir S Ayazuddin
Islamabad: I watched with horror as someone on a television talk show recently explained how 'until the Kashmir issue is resolved there can be no trade with India.' I agree that the Kashmir problem is of the utmost importance to us, but cannot understand why trade has to be linked to Kashmir. If we go back to the Independence movement and the creation of the Pakistan State, let us understand that we separated from India because we did not want to live as second-class citizens and as a minority. Also the Muslims wanted their own land to live and practice their religion in freedom. Kashmir as a problem arose much later. Many believe that if Kashmir had not happened, the Indians would have invented some other problem. Let us examine the ground realities. Trade between India and Pakistan is already going on. Example: 90 per cent of the tea being consumed in Pakistan is of Indian origin and comes via Dubai or (in the old days Kabul). Indian saris and textiles and even whiskies are readily available in the markets of Lahore. The Indian government has given Pakistan most favoured nation (MFN) status, and is encouraging exports to Pakistan - that is, they know and approve the end use country. Pakistan has not reciprocated. This means that the Indian trader can happily export his goods to Pakistan, but no the other way around. The Pakistan government prohibits any export to India unless specifically allowed in special cases. Pakistan's imports from India are in the region of 800 million USD. Pakistan's exports to India are nowhere near this. So we have created a situation that favors the Indian businessman. Now, let us take a look at the effect of the visa restrictions. The traffic between India and Pakistan is almost entirely Muslims visiting friends and relatives. The Hindus who visit Pakistan do so primarily to attend seminars and conferences. Given the difficulties of obtaining visas, and the negligible non- Muslim traffic across the border in either direction, again it is the Muslim who suffer more from such restrictions on either side, including the Pakistani pilgrims to Ajmer Sharif. The suffering experienced by Muslims traveling to or from India cannot be quantified. The treatment meted out to visa applicants in Islamabad by the Indian High Commission is horrific, and they are then subjected to further humiliation by our own 'intelligence' operatives who want to know the reasons for their visit and so on. The situation on the other side of the border is little different. Perhaps we should look at trade, considering that we have no other levers in our hands. Whether it is the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat or the demolition of the Babri Masjid, we are helpless and cannot do anything to aid our co-religionists in India. The Indians are laughing at our stupidity, and our foreign office (FO) thinks that we are punishing them by not allowing trade. India is already ahead - by almost one billion dollars. When India wanted to buy our electricity, we refused. This sale would have meant an income of more than two billion dollars a year for Pakistan. But we lost out again. The cause being held up is Kashmir - and selling electricity to India would have given us a powerful enough lever to negotiate that issue further, but it seems our policy makers apparently think otherwise. If we look deeper at the Kargil episode it is clear that the exercise was meant to destabilize the improvement of relations between the two countries. Similarly at the Agra Summit, nobody still knows what went wrong - although many believe that the biggest hurdle to peace is our bureaucracy, acting with their counterparts in Delhi. At Agra, certainly, it was not the Army that scuttled the talks, since the Army Chief himself was the President and stood to lose the most - and did in the personal capacity. It is not the businessman who is standing in the way of bilateral trade, because he is not anywhere near this level of policy making. Whoever is responsible for these restrictions should surely be reined in. I would like to see a public debate on these issues. Perhaps it is about time for us to look at the economic side of the picture and see how we can benefit - of course without sacrificing Kashmir. The writer is a Karachi-based businessman.