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Category — Trade

How the India-centric anti-trade hysteria is hurting ordinary Pakistanis: op-ed

by Anjum Altaf in Dawn, October 27th, 2017
The writer was the dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Lums.
Rather than asserting that the military and the judiciary could be criticised if criticism was merited, a distinguished minister has taken the position that parliament is just as sacrosanct and hence above being challenged.

In anticipation of what is likely to follow, this being Pakistan, one cannot afford to lose any time taking to task another minister who has asked for the treatment. I am referring to a news item in which the minister for industries, commerce and investment has informed the Punjab Assembly that there would be “no tomato import despite mafia’s manoeuvring”.

The minister is said to have elaborated that “now tomatoes from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were being sold at Rs70 per kilo in the city and would continue to be sold till prices get further stabilised with supplies from Sindh arriving in the local market”. The justification for the policy is contained in a direct quote from the minister: “Why pass the advantage on to foreign farmers instead of our own?” According to the minister, “an influential mafia” was trying hard for resumption of import from India which would not be allowed to happen.

This minister needs to have a whole load of rotten tomatoes thrown at his head and the party chief responsible for his appointment to the ministry needs to explain the poor selection. Imagine a modern minister for commerce who can publicly state “Why pass on the advantage to foreign [producers] instead of our own?” Just follow through with the implications of the logic — it would put an end to all international trade because the only things traded are those that are made better or at lower cost by foreign producers.

When tomatoes were selling for Rs300 a kilo in Lahore they were available at Indian Rs40 in Amritsar.

There are a whole host of other problems with the argument. First, note the irony that the statement is coming from a minister in a country where even common pins are being imported from China and garbage collection is being contracted out to the Turks. There has not been a peep about the advantage being passed on to foreigners in these and a slew of other sectors.

Second, this newfound love of ‘our own’ is confined to producers, setting aside entirely the welfare of consumers who vastly outnumber the former. Why? Are consumers not equally our own? And is the government not elected to enhance the welfare of the majority?

Third, what if someone extends the minister’s argument to the provincial level? Why pass on the advantage to producers in KP and Sindh instead of our own farmers in Punjab? Such a person would immediately be labelled an anti-national element even though the logic of the argument remains unchanged.

Fourth, who is this ‘influential mafia’ trying hard for resumption of import from India? What does it have to gain from the import? And, if this is actually a resumption of something that was taking place earlier, why wasn’t this mafia hauled in for anti-state activities at that time? Could it not be a producer mafia trying to block imports? Would a producer mafia not be infinitely more influential than one of consumers?

The point of all these seemingly absurd questions is to highlight the mindlessness of the minister’s statement and the sheer vacuousness of the logic offered for his decision. The fact of the matter is that a blind nationalism is at the bottom of this ridiculous anti-trade stance that is hurting the budget of the vast majority of citizens who have to purchase essential commodities in the market.

At the time when tomatoes were selling for Rs300 a kilo in Lahore they were available at Indian Rs40 a kilo in Amritsar a mere 30 miles away. But a visceral Indo-phobia, shared by many of our influentials, stood in the way of consumers benefiting from the lower priced supply. It was then that another distinguished minister, the federal minister for national food security and research said that “the government will never allow import of any vegetables, including tomato and onion, from India despite record high prices of these kitchen items in local markets due to limited local supply”. He elaborated that “this step has been taken to encourage the local farmers to grow more besides saving huge foreign exchange”.

Our ministers are not alone in articulating such puerile logic emanating from their Indo-phobia. I recall a meeting in which an ex-chief of the ISI similarly railed against trade with India because it would destroy “our own” industry. The specific example he gave was of footwear that was being produced at lower cost across the border and whose import would put Pakistani producers “out of business”. During a break, a participant jokingly inquired about the make of the shoes the chief was wearing — it turned out they were Italian.

The point to note is that this India-centric anti-trade hysteria is shared by many who have no compunctions consuming products imported from all other countries and whose income brackets are such that commodities like tomatoes and onions are a minuscule proportion of their budgets. These are people who tell their car drivers to fill up the tank without ever asking the going price of petrol. They are indulging in the psychic pleasure of ‘hurting’ India at no cost to themselves while pushing millions of people who can afford to buy only a litre of gas at a time below the poverty line.

The ultimate irony is that such callous and shallow prejudice does virtually nothing to hurt India. On the contrary, the gap between the two countries continues to widen while our leaders make fools of themselves trying to prove to a wide-eyed world that India is the ‘mother of all terrorisms’. It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs and a sign of the extent to which people have given up that nobody even bothers to point out these follies before the narrow window for questioning inevitably draws tightly shut. https://www.dawn.com/news/1366501/rotten-tomatoes

October 27, 2017   No Comments

PIA to discontinue flights to US due to financial losses

Report in Pakistan Todayh, Oct 7, 2017
KARACHI: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will stop flights to the United States from October 31.

According to a private media outlet’s report, the officials have taken this decision due to heavy losses the country’s flagship carrier was incurring—the losses were estimated to be over Rs 1.25 billion annually.

After October 31, the airline will no longer book US flights through its reservation system.

PIA had been operating flights to the US since 1961 without any disruption. A total of five weekly flights to New York and three other US cities were being operated.

The same reason had forced the airline to ponder upon the option of closing its operations in the US in past too but the political pressure it faced each time hindered its plans, according to the report.

These flights were beneficial to some politicians holding dual citizenship, top government officials and pilots so they exerted pressure on the airline to not stop its US flight operations.

After stopping direct flights to the US, PIA will enter into a code-sharing agreement with an American airline. US-bound passengers will be flown to London, where they will then be transferred to the American airline which will take them to the US. https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2017/10/07/pia-to-discontinue-flights-to-us-due-to-financial-losses/

October 7, 2017   No Comments

Militants flushed out of Fata, says corps commander

PARACHINAR: Corps commander, Peshawar, Lt-Gen Nazir Ahmed Butt said on Wednesday that the security forces had wiped out the militants’ command and control system in tribal areas by rendering great sacrifices.

He was addressing a tribal jirga in Parachinar, the headquarters of Kurram Agency. Commandant Kurram militia Omar Malik and political agent Baseer Khan Wazir were also present on the occasion.

He also reviewed security situation along the Pak-Afghan border and laid foundation stone of Army Public School and College in Parachinar.

Addressing the jirga of tribal elders, he said that militants had been flushed out from the tribal belt by dismantling their command and control system and centres. He said that now there were no chances of their (militants) regrouping.

The corps commander said that 95 per cent elements involved in three incidents of militancy in Kurram had been arrested.
He said that security had been beefed up in the agency and at the Afghan border.

He said that the government had allocated a special package of Rs800 million for Kurram Agency. He said that this amount would be spent on construction of educational institutions, roads and hospitals to bring positive changes in the violence-hit tribal agency.

Laying foundation stone of the Army Public School and College, Lt-Gen Butt said that there would be 40 classrooms in the APS Parachinar.

He said that the APS would have capacity of accommodating 1,200 students. He directed the quarters concerned to arrange three shifts for timely completion of the construction work on the building.

He also ordered establishment of playgrounds and planting trees on the site.

The corps commander also directed for installation of solar system and other facilities at the new park in Parachinar.

The tribal elders welcomed establishment of APS and paid tribute to the army chief for fulfilling his promise.www.dawn.com/news/1333841/militants-flushed-out-of-fata-says-corps-commander

May 18, 2017   No Comments

Trade with India: op-ed by Tayyab Siddiqui in The News, Jan 7

The writer is a former Pak ambassador
Trade relations with India have been a subject of contention and controversy for long. Popular opinion in Pakistan dictates that these relations be rejected until the Kashmir issue is settled. Others hold the view that trade and commerce have their own dynamics and may not be held hostage to political differences.

The controversy has been raging for decades. India, besides bilateral efforts, has also used the SAARC platform to secure bilateral trade and transit rights through Pakistan to have access to Afghanistan and the land-locked Central Asian states. The political situation in Afghanistan, involvement of US and other western powers has encouraged India to tie transit rights with the Afghan situation. The US has mounted intense pressure on Pakistan to provide over land route for Indian exports to Afghanistan. Secretary Clinton has openly canvassed hard, telling Pakistan that its “obsession” with India’s hostility is misplaced.

Pakistan has, however, rejected any such thesis. India’s role and policy in the region and its alleged involvement in sponsoring terrorism in Balochistan as well as FATA have created serious concerns regarding Pakistan’s security environment. Pakistan also has concerns about smuggling, massive flow of drugs and arms from Kabul into Pakistan. The prevailing hundi system could also lead financing terrorism in Pakistan.

A trilateral summit was held in May in Washington with presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan attending the event hosted by Clinton. The deliberations succeeded and a MoU was signed on May 6, committing the “two countries achieving a trade transit agreement by the end of this year.” This agreement had remained under discussion for 43 years without resolution. A euphoric Clinton declared the MoU as an “important milestone” and “historic event” for the countries in the region.

The real intentions and objectives behind this initiative of trilateral summit and signing of the MoU was to extend the transit right to India, surreptitiously. The MoU has certainly been a major triumph and will not only enhance Pakistan’s trade with Afghanistan but also provide its product the market of Central Asian states.

Pakistan has so far succeeded in resisting US pressure to extend India the transit facility. Afghanistan, acknowledging that such an agreement will not be feasible in near future, has accepted Pakistan’s offer for 60 trucks a month for transporting its goods up to Wagah. Both also agreed that in transit, goods would be checked through an electronic tracking mechanism mounted on the vehicles.

Concomitant with these diplomatic efforts by the US to seek concession for India, the bilateral trade between Indian and Pakistan has flourished. With the trade deficit exceeding one billion dollars, Pakistan exports to India have stagnated around $400 million, despite the fact that India has granted MFN status to Pakistan. To deflect diplomatic pressure and keeping in view its political and economic interest, Pakistan should gradually liberalise trade with India but not allow the derailing of the Kashmir issue with its transit route to India. Pakistan may, however, continue to encourage trade with India consistent with our economic and security concerns. Word is that Pakistan has invited three multi-billion Indian companies, TATA, Reliance and Essar, to a meeting of potential investors in the power sector for the development of the Thar Coal Power Project.

Pakistan must exploit its geo-political location by improving transit trade with the Central Asian states and should accelerate transit transport agreements with Central Asian republics to secure its hold in the region. www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=217235

January 7, 2010   No Comments