THE cabinet’s reversal of the Economic Coordination Committee 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.

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.

Read: No trade with India under current circumstances, says PM Imran

The episode raises several questions, and cannot be shrugged off by 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.

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2021

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