Round-the-clock work at Wagah unlikely

Published February 7, 2015
— AP/file
— AP/file

ISLAMABAD: The proposal to keep the border between India and Pakistan at Wagah-Attari open round the clock to increase the volume of trade between the two countries is unlikely to see light of day, even though the deadline set by both sides for implementing the agreed measures in this direction passed nearly a year ago.

Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan conceded this on the Senate floor on Friday, but implied that this had been happening because defence authorities had not been consulted before the decision was taken in January 2014.

Answering a question posed by the PPP’s Sughra Imam, who had inquired why the Defence Ministry was not consulted by the Commerce Ministry when the decision to enhance operational hours at Wagah was taken, the minister said that there had been no increase in the operational hours at Wagah so far.

Commerce ministers from both countries had met on Jan 18, 2014 in New Delhi, he said. During the meeting, the two sides reached an understanding on increasing working hours at the Wagah-Attari border to achieve round-the-clock operations. “However, the proposal will be implemented after consultation with the relevant stakeholders, which includes the Defence Ministry,” the minister said.

According to the joint press statement issued after the commerce ministers’ meeting last year, both sides reaffirmed their commitment to expeditiously establish normal trading relations and provide non-discriminatory market access to each other.

But on Friday, the minister said the government was still working to give India non-discriminatory market access, which he said was a new name for most-favoured nation (MFN) status. He rejected the notion that India would dominate Pakistan’s market and get extraordinary market access to the country under the arrangement.

Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan pointed out that replies to 12 questions that were on the day’s agenda had not been received as ministries continued to take parliament non-seriously. The matter was referred to the privileges committee by Senate Chairman Syed Nayyar Hussain Bokhari.

ANP’s Zahid Khan initiated discussion on the recent petroleum crisis after a motion was adopted seeking discussion on the matter and the consideration of a report of a joint senate standing committee meeting.

Zahid Khan, who is also the chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Water and Power, regretted that the ministers of water and power and finance did not turn up at the joint meeting. He said it was not appropriate to blame the media for the crisis as it had only identified a problem, adding that the government was responsible for the crisis.

Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan pointed out that a letter, sent to the chairmen of all senate stranding committees asking that committees not meet more than twice a month, was being misused by ministers and bureaucrats as a form of immunity. He observed that the letter contained a recommendation which was not binding on the chairmen, who could summon any cabinet member or ministry official when required.

Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq endorsed this view, saying that the suggestion was meant to streamline procedures. He said that ministers and secretaries were not exempt from attending committee meetings, even if they met more than twice a month. “There is no ambiguity about it and the misuse of the letter would not be allowed,” he remarked. The house was then prorogued sine die.

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2015

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