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MFN status for India put on hold

August 13, 2013

ISLAMABAD, Aug 12: In the first sign that strains in bilateral relations caused by ceasefire violations on the Line of Control in Kashmir now run deeper than military skirmishes, the government said on Monday the most-favoured nation (MFN) trading status for India was not under “immediate consideration”.

“There is no immediate consideration to grant India MFN status. There is a need to normalise relations on a number of issues,” Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said in a TV talk show.

The statement came as tensions between the two countries spiked over the ceasefire violations.

A civilian, Mohammad Zubair, was killed in Rawalakot’s Battal sector in firing by Indian troops on Monday. Indian soldiers also attacked Pakistani posts in Chirikot, Satwal and Nakial sectors.

Indian forces have regularly shelled Pakistani positions, in contravention of a 2003 ceasefire accord, since an Aug 6 ambush on an Indian patrol by unidentified terrorists in which five soldiers were killed.

Pakistan had announced in 2011 that it would grant India the MFN status by December 2012, but that could not materialise partly because of opposition from agriculture lobbies and partly due to India not progressing on removal of non-tariff barriers on import of Pakistani products.

Trade was the only area other than visa liberalisation where the countries were able to make progress in their peace dialogue that resumed in 2011.

It was expected that the PML-N government, which had focused on improving ties with India since coming to office, would fast-track the MFN designation.

Indian Deputy High Commissioner Gopal Bagley was summoned to the Foreign Office on Monday to receive protest over the repeated ceasefire violations and the resulting death of a civilian.

“Pakistan has expressed its serious concern over the continuous ceasefire violations by Indian Border Security Force across the LoC over the past couple of days. The Foreign Office summoned the Indian deputy high commissioner this afternoon to raise this concern,” spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry said.

Mr Bagley was asked to convey to his government Pakistan’s demand for upholding the ceasefire agreement.

“Pakistan calls upon India to uphold the ceasefire over the LoC and reiterates its commitment to the Ceasefire Agreement of 2003 which should be respected in letter and spirit,” Mr Chaudhry said.

The spokesman said Pakistan remained committed to a constructive, sustained and result-oriented process of engagement with India.

Tariq Naqash adds from Muzaffarabad: As India’s heavy machine-gun fire caused more casualties in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) in the wee hours of Monday in yet another ceasefire violation, demonstrations were held throughout the region later in the day.

Zubair, 43, was asleep when a mortar shell hit his home in Doonga Ghambir village of Tetrinote sector, in Poonch district, killing him.

His cousin Sabiha, 35, was seriously injured and later removed to a health facility in Rawalakot.

Indian troops started shelling at about 1am and it was intense till the crack of dawn.

An army official described the shelling as unprovoked and said Pakistani troops had hit back effectively.

Hundreds of people took to the streets in various towns of Azad Kashmir to condemn state-sponsored terrorism in the India-held territory and unprovoked ceasefire violations by Indian troops.

A march in Muzaffarabad was led by AJK Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, who had given a call for demonstrations against Indian aggression along the LoC.

“Down with India, Long live Kashmir freedom movement,” chanted the participants as they marched on the city’s main thoroughfare towards the UN Military Observers’ Mission here. Some also shouted slogans to voice support for the Pakistan Army.

At the mission, the prime minister presented a protest note which called upon United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pressure India to stop ceasefire violations and concede the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people. Talking to reporters, Mr Majeed said that the people had taken to the streets to draw the attention of the UN as well as the international community towards India’s wanton actions aimed at vitiating peace in the region.

“If steps are not taken to restrain India, the region may descend into a devastating war between the nuclear armed neighbours,” he warned.

He pointed out that in spite of the truce agreement, India was relentlessly committing aggressions along the LoC and its “jingoistic attitude” had also jeopardised the Kashmir-specific confidence-buildings measures (CBMs), like intra-Kashmir travel and trade.

In Mirpur, speakers at a rally said the Indian government was whipping up war hysteria through provocative actions along the LoC and the Working Boundary to fend off international pressure for resolution of the Kashmir issue through dialogue with Pakistan.

According to AFP, a spokesman for the Indian army in Kashmir, Rajesh Kalia, said: “Our side responded to unprovoked firing from the Pakistani side with small arms. Intermittent firing went on for the whole night till Monday morning.”

According to Times of India, the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi requested the Indian government to ensure security and safety of the offices of Pakistan International Airlines in India. The request was made following threats, purportedly by the Shiv Sena, to shut down the airlines’ offices in Delhi and Mumbai.