Trade deficit with India

Pakistan's trade deficit with India has soared to nearly $290 million in the year ending June 2004 against $96 million in the previous year. The rising adverse trade balance is a bit disturbing specially as this trend has been witnessed for quite a few years now.

The growing deficit is all the more incomprehensible in that India, with over a billion people and a fast growing middle class, offers an enormous market for Pakistani goods even if it is conceded that its trade barriers are a little more difficult to surmount than ours.

But a cursory look at the traded items between the two countries reveals some positive aspects too for Pakistan. The trade deficit is explained by imports of animal feed needed by a fast growing domestic livestock sector and raw cotton and chemicals for export-oriented textile industry - items which were obtained through third countries in the recent past.

The direct trade between the two countries is helping improve the volume of trade, which has doubled from $237.1 million to $476 million over one year.The comparative prices of some Indian raw materials for industries and lower freight help domestic export industries to cut costs.

Last year, new items from Pakistan like molasses and petroleum and its products were introduced in the Indian market and sales of Pakistani fabrics doubled. Pakistan enjoys the advantage of superior cotton fibre when compared with India.

But on the whole it is quite evident from the overall volume of exports and the sales of individual items that efforts to boost exports or to balance trade with India are pretty feeble.

It is not recognized that access to India's enormous market could also facilitate production on economies of scale needed to attract foreign investment and technology and help produce quality goods at competitive prices for the sophisticated developed markets.

Here India also needs to be reminded that it should emulate China's example, which is now acting as an engine of growth for the neighbouring South East Asian countries by providing easier access to its market.

With the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (Safta) becoming operative soon, trade barriers would be gradually dismantled under a phased programme. So far, there appears to be no sign that Pakistan is preparing to face the Safta challenges.

Domestic industry needs to modernize its management and technology and upgrade its expertise to cut costs, improve quality and offer competitive prices for its products. It should learn to stand on its own feet and not depend on subsidized interest rates, export rebates and devaluation of the rupee.

The export base needs to be diversified by focusing on engineering and leather goods and IT technology. India has gained some experiences from which Pakistan can draw useful lessons.

The government needs to carry out studies as to how individual industries specially in manufacturing would be affected by Safta. With increased uncertainties in the global market, regional trade agreements (RTA) and bilateral free trade arrangements have emerged as a more important tool of foreign trade policy.

The importance of RTAs can be judged from the fact that 60 per cent of the trade today is conducted on preferential and not on a "Most Favoured Nation Treatment" basis. Pakistan and India can ignore bilateral and regional trade co-operation at their own peril.

Iran's justified plea

There is eminent sense in the Iranian demand for a nuclear-free Middle East. Speaking in Manila on Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said most countries in the Middle East felt "insecure" because Israel possessed nuclear arms, besides other weapons of mass destruction.

He pleaded that Israel be made to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. His plea is, of course, a cry in the wilderness, because one is struck by the dichotomy in American and EU attitudes toward the question of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

The two have joined hands to put pressure on Iran to give up its modest nuclear programme. There are differences, of course, in shades with regard to the American and EU approaches to the issue.

The Americans would like the European three - Britain, France and Germany (since they are on speaking terms with Iran) - to bring the issue to the Security Council. Once there, the Americans would be able to have the right kind of resolution passed against Iran. The European three want to adopt a more conciliatory approach.

Nevertheless, the two share the common goal of subjecting Iran to pressure on the nuclear question. In contrast, neither the US nor the EU bothers to take note of Israel's nuclear arsenal.

Tel Aviv itself has maintained what has been described as "strategic ambiguity" in the matter, but it is confirmed that Israel has a minimum of 200 nuclear weapons. Aware that it is the sole possessor of nuclear weapons and other WMDs in the region, Israel has used its military power to bully and attack all its neighbours.

There is no neighbour against which Israel has not committed aggression. This is in addition to its continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in violation of UN resolutions and the Oslo peace accord.

Yet neither the US nor the EU has bothered to look at this aspect of the situation. Patronizing Israel while lambasting and pressuring Iran to give up its nuclear plans shows lack of consistency and moral principle in the US-EU approach to the issue.

Ending corporal punishment

The Sindh education ministry's ban on corporal punishment in schools in the province should prove a welcome piece of news for both children and parents. All too often one hears about children being subjected to degrading, often violent, physical punishment for minor faults, such as not learning lessons or being inattentive in class.

Indeed, corporal punishment meted out in schools, is one of the primary reasons behind the increasing number of children who run away from home. It is also a sign of an inadequate educational system where the frustrations of teachers find an outlet in dangerous actions that could leave life-long physical and psychological scars on the students.

One hopes that the government implements the ban without any delay, charging school inspection teams with the task of maintaining a strict check on all educational institutions in the province and reporting errant teachers to the authorities for appropriate action.

However, a more formidable task before the government remains the ending of corporal punishment in the various madressahs that fall outside the ambit of the formal education system.

Specially notorious for starving their pupils and keeping them in chains, besides administering other forms of punishments that sometimes includes sexual abuse, the religious men running these seminaries must be made accountable for their misdeeds.

Given the current restrictive atmosphere in these institutions, it comes as no surprise that the madressahs are ideal breeding grounds for jihadis who band together to pose a serious threat to the peace and the public order of their own country as well as that of other countries.

Not only are the young students indoctrinated in extremist political and religious ideology, they are left practically devoid of normal human sensibilities and impulses as a result of merciless beatings they have received throughout their formative years at the hands of their so-called teachers.

One does not know the outcome of a proposed parliamentary bill for ending corporal punishment. But perhaps, now is the time to take up the issue in right earnest, and with a sense of urgency that is called for.

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