The Pakistan’s cabinet reversal of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) decision on imports from India is a bizarre development – one that falls squarely under the unfortunate category of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing. Not only does it betray a lack of coordination within the government, it also points to poor decision – making on a serious matter that requires a sensible and level – headed approach.
Pakistan is reeling under a severe shortage of sugar and it is selling at more than Rs. 110/- per kilo (Pakistani Rupee). The citizens were facing severe difficulties and 25% of the Pakistan populace live below the poverty level and another 25% of the population at the poverty level. With the festival season of Ramadan and most of the Pakistani having sweet tooth, a proposal was prepared to import sugar, cotton and cotton yarn. Global prices were searched and it was found that India had surplus sugar available and India can supply faster through the international Wagah border. With Pakistan Premier also being the commerce minister the voice of the ‘awam’ was to be heard and the proposal was approved in principle and Pakistan allowed its private parties to import from the nearest source.
This created furore in the nation and Pakistan government faced lot of flak from the opposition and general public. There was also a move that Pakistan will export its surplus cement and this will be consumed by the north Indian consumers as prices of cement bags is higher in north India as compared to price of cement bags in south India. In India it has price disequilibrium and a Pakistan lobby in India indicated Pakistan can barter cement with cotton yarn or cotton and sugar.
With regards to the Economic Coordination Committee’s (ECC) decision to allow import of sugar, cotton and cotton yarn from India, Prime Minister Imran Khan held consultations with key members of his cabinet on Friday and decided that Pakistan could not go ahead with any trade with India under the current circumstances.
Sugar is sweet but scientifically and medically it is harmful and termed ‘white poison’, and Pakistan found it as another way of hitting the cause of Kashmir! India and Pakistan are under pressure from the US to establish better relations and in January 2021, Congressman Gregory Meeks, Chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee said that the US policy on human rights should be the same as it is in the US, in countries around the world, including Kashmir. He said he would look forward to playing his role to expand Pak – US relations. He made it clear that the Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee will play its role wherever it finds violation of human rights adding that human rights, irrespective of religion or ethnicity, must be held and must be kept in Kashmir.
On February 26, 2021, the US welcomed the announcement by India and Pakistan that they would observe the 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and State Department spokesperson Ned Price stated, the “US welcomes the joint statement between India and Pakistan that the two countries have agreed to maintain strict observance of a ceasefire along the LoC starting on February 25th. We encourage continued efforts to improve communication between the two sides and reduce tensions and violence along the Line of Control.” There had been no compromise on the cause of Kashmir.
He further stated “we (US) had called on parties to reduce tensions along the LoC by returning to that 2003 ceasefire agreement. When it comes to the scene of the US’ role, we continue to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other issues of concern”.
Both the Chairman US House Committee on Foreign Affairs and State Department Spokesperson mentioned Kashmir in their statements.
On March 31, Finance Minister Hammad Azhar surprisingly announced the import 0.5 million tonnes of white sugar and cotton from India. Soon after the announcement, the government faced stiff opposition over the restoration of sugar and cotton imports from India. The government did not realise before taking this decision that it will hurt the Kashmir cause.
The public knows all and the government must decide either to help the oppressed Kashmiris or under American pressure create good relations with India at the cost of Kashmir which is not acceptable to the nation.
According to Pakistan’s de facto NSA, Imran Khan as Minister-in-charge of commerce approved the import of sugar and cotton yarn from India in one meeting while on the second day he rejected it as Prime Minister. As a matter of fact, the decision was publicly opposed and a public appeal to boycott sugar was announced as the move had hurt the Kashmir cause. Opposing NSA that composite dialogue is the way forward with Kashmir on top of the agenda rather than succumbing to any international pressure to damage the long-outstanding issue.
I still appreciate the PM that at least he answered the voice of the people and reversed the decision which he had made as Minister-in-Charge as it had hurt the sentiments of the people of Pakistan and Kashmir. The government has to be honest in the public statements as it is answerable to the state and people of Pakistan. First of all, which authority approved the import of sugar and as per media reports and the NSA that Imran Khan as Minister-in-charge of commerce approved it. And, the very next day in the cabinet meeting, sugar imports from India was on the agenda. It was only me who pointed out first that it would hurt the cause of Kashmir and only then, the PM and cabinet made a fast reverse gear hiding the earlier approval. Why did the government not state honestly that it has been reversed on public pressure? The government should have given credit where it was due.
The NSA has also said that the Economic Coordination Committee makes decisions on merit, not just for optics. Let me ask how it could reopen trade with India without first getting the special status of Kashmir restored. Prime Minister was asked how a summary could be moved when there were already restrictions over ‘trade with India’. The nation recalls that it was firmly decided that Pakistan will not deal in any trade with India till it doesn’t restore the special status of Kashmir. Pakistan had expelled Indian High Commissioner over India’s unilateral and illegal move to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and the same was decided in the joint session of the Parliament. The joint session of Parliament was informed by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi that the National Security Committee (NSC) outlined immediate actions the government will be taking which included the downgradation of the diplomatic relations and the suspension of bilateral trade with India and to take up the matter with the United Nations and its Security Council. The NSC’s decision of suspension of bilateral trade with India is part of parliament proceedings of a joint session. Our Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa has stated with clarity that dialogue with India is subject to the resolution of Kashmir. The question arises; was Pakistan’s de facto NSA unaware of this decision of the National Security Committee (NSC) and Parliament? Let us highlight the other item; that approval is given subject to the availability of commodities and question rises how did Pakistan’s de facto NSA obtain the availability and what channels were used with India to obtain the confirmation of the availability of sugar and under what banking arrangements? Now having all this background of the sentiments of people for India after scrapping the special status of Kashmir by PM Modi and still oppressed Kashmiris are under the longest army curfew ordeal. Wasn’t this directive and Pakistan concerns about Kashmir noticed and isn’t he the advisor of National Security of Pakistan and if so, how he can be that much ignorant to get the approval of the import of sugar from India?
Pakistan’s de facto NSA owes an explanation to the nation as to why he acted so fast and approved this attention as he is dealing with commerce which is a clash of interest. He must have become very capable after working in a USA think tank. It is easy to conclude that Pakistan’s NSA wanted to create an impression before the west that Indo-Pak relations are getting normal even without the Kashmir issue on the table.
The People of Pakistan have the right to know why he attempted to hurt the cause of Kashmir at the cost of vested interests. The NSA must know that he is the National Security Advisor of Pakistan and no more an employee of a USA think tank.
I hope he will apologise from the people of Pakistan otherwise the Bars of Pakistan will take him to court on this serious issue and I hope the National Assembly and the Senate privilege committee will move this breach of privilege for violating the related resolution of the joint parliament on the matter. I have nothing against him but I have immense love for my country and hence as a Pakistani, I have the right to ask him for this action which was against the national interest of Pakistan. This move of reopening trade with India is worse than what has been reported by EU DisinfoLab as India had been damaging the cause of Kashmir by its malicious propaganda. It is unfortunate that we previously played on India’s pitch through a sugar-coated anti-Kashmir policy and now India tried sugar diplomacy, further trying to kill the issue of Kashmir. It was thought by the diplomatic schemers to dilute the voice of Kashmir and perhaps bury it under tonnes of sugar well explained in a verse of my poem titled ‘Indian Occupied Kashmir Vs Indian Sugar’ that “You may trade sugar but not Kashmir”.
The government must know that the people of Pakistan will not agree on trading with India without the implementation of the UN Resolution on Kashmir. I had stated earlier that ‘PM Modi; You can threaten me, can have attacks on my character, or can have physical attacks on me but nothing can silence my voice for the oppressed people of Kashmir and I will expose these attempts soon and I will continue to expose his brutalities against Kashmiris and Indian Muslims carried out through RSS militants.’
In the end, I demand a complete judicial inquiry into this sugar import scandal which is “Anti-Kashmir sugar diplomacy”; more to come in my next article.
Pakistan has constantly stated that any forward movement requires India to create an enabling environment by revisiting its unilateral and illegal measures of August 5, 2019 regarding India-held Kashmir.
The Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA) Punjab Zone refused to provide sugar for Rs. 80 per kilogram for the open market. PSMA Punjab leadership including Javed Kayani, Chaudhry Waheed, Ali Saleem and others, told press conference in Lahore that the government should abolish 17% sales tax levied on the sugar sale if it wanted to fix Rs 80/ kg ex-mill rate of the commodity. They said if the government wanted to fix that rate, it should take the responsibility of paying salaries to the mills staff as well as all other financial liabilities. They said the mills could not afford providing sugar for Rs 80/ kg, and the government might import it at this rate if it could not increase rate for the local mills’ produce.
The PSMA claimed that the cost of sugar production was Rs 87.65 per kilogram after purchasing sugarcane at the government support price of Rs 200 per 40 kg. They said the mills procured sugarcane for Rs 260 – 285 per 40 kilogram during the crushing season. After purchasing sugarcane for that price, the average cost of production at ex-mill level ranged between Rs 108 – 109 / kg, they claimed.
On the other hand, a Food Department senior official confirmed on Saturday that the notified ex-mill rate was yet to be implemented in the province. “Yes, not a single kg of sugar sold by any mill yet at government’s notified rate,” admitted the official, adding they were resisting the notified price tooth and nail. According to market sources, sugar is still being sold for over Rs 100 per kg at most of the retail outlets.
Meanwhile, an additional district and session’s court Saturday granted interim bail to well-known parliamentarian, industrialist and sugar baron Jahangir Khan Tareen and his son Ali Khan Tareen in two cases of alleged fraud and money laundering. The court of Additional District and Sessions Judge Hamid Hussain granted bail to the father-son duo on submission of surety bonds of Rs500,000 each. The court granted bail to the duo till April 10.
Separately, a banking court, led over by Judge Ameer Muhammad Khan, also granted pre-arrest bail to both the accused in another case against them till April 7. The court restrained the authorities from arresting the father-son duo till April 7. The two accused appeared in both courts and secured bails.
As per the FIR against the Tareen family, the FIA stated that during the course of an inquiry, a fraudulent and premeditated scheme of misappropriation of public shareholders’ money by Jahangir Khan Tareen had surfaced whereby JDW (a public limited listed company) fraudulently transferred Rs 3.14 billion to an associated private company, Farooqi Pulp Mills Ltd Gujrat (FPML), owned by his son and close relatives.
The material disclosure that FMPL was declared “not a going-concern (especially since FY-2011 / 12) and that its operations had been practically shut down with multiple failed trial-runs, was intentionally withheld / concealed from public shareholders of JDW which amounted to criminal breach of trust (406 PPC) of the public shareholders’ money over which Jahangir Tareen had fiduciary control as the CEO,” the FIR stated.
A few days ago, at a press conference, Hammad Azhar, the newly appointed finance minister, had indicated that the ECC’s decision on trade with India was based on economic factors. The summary moved in this regard was signed by the prime minister himself. The announcement made headlines both at home and in the neighbouring country, and was viewed in the context of the recent de-escalation of hostilities between Pakistan and India that was evident in the LoC ceasefire agreement as well as the speeches delivered by the Prime Minister and the Army Chief at the Islamabad Security Dialogue last month. The following day, however, the federal cabinet rejected the same idea, leaving both the nation and the world stunned at this about-turn.
The episode raises several questions, and cannot be shrugged off by the ministers. It has caused embarrassment. It points to a faulty system and also creates the impression that the key job of decision-making is conducted in a juvenile manner. The explanations from federal ministers that ECC decisions can be overturned by the cabinet are weak, because they offer no justification for why the finance minister held a press conference to declare this as a matter of fact. Mr Azhar’s presser at no point gave the impression that the ‘decision’ to trade with India was just a proposal under review.
It has now emerged that the foreign minister and some key members of government are against the idea of trading with India until New Delhi reviews its Kashmir policy and rescinds its decision to revoke IHK’s special status. While this approach may be in keeping with Pakistan’s correct diplomatic messaging on Kashmiris’ right to self-determination, it is also true that historically CBMs have been a part of the Pakistan-India equation. The ECC decision may have been ostensibly about trade, but it would have needed input from all government departments, including the security establishment. Any decision here has long-term consequences not just for our industrial sector but also for perceptions regarding the normalisation of ties.
At the moment, this fiasco is casting a cloud of uncertainty over Mr Khan’s leadership skills. As demonstrated by this latest U-turn, communication problems, an inability to make and stick to decisions and poor conflict-resolution skills are becoming the hallmark of this government. The nation deserves to know who is responsible and what action will be taken to avoid such blunders in the future.
The real problem is that many leaders own sugar mills in Pakistan and they may never like that prices dip for the ‘awam’ but profitability take a dip for the pockets.
World over deep pockets are never hurt!