AMIDST widespread destruction of vital food crops due to floods, fresh proposals have been raised to resume trade with our eastern neighbour which, due to its geographical proximity and agricultural similarities, can provide the quickest means of bridging a looming demand-supply shortfall in various kitchen commodities. The question of whether or not this can happen is a tricky one because talk of any ties with India — be they purely economic in nature — invites a knee-jerk reaction and a fair bit of politicking from any faction looking to make some quick political capital. In purely logistical terms, it makes sense for Pakistan to first tap its neighbours for its immediate needs before turning to global markets. Both the cost of shipment and the time taken for the goods to reach local markets will be much lower in case foodstuff is imported from India rather than anywhere else. Faced with a situation where every penny spent on imports must be spent conservatively, our policymakers will find few choices that are more cost-effective in this regard. The end-consumers, too, will benefit from the lower cost and quicker availability of items of everyday use. Resuming imports can also provide a blueprint for the broader resumption of routine commerce between Pakistan and India in the future.
It is necessary, however, that Pakistan’s political leadership as well as the state arrive at the same conclusion regarding trade with India. Any decision taken must not fall victim to infighting and politicking at the expense of whoever formally gives the call to proceed. Since most of the political parties are already part of the coalition government, they may find it easier to arrive at a consensus on the matter. However, the PTI, too, must see reason and consider the greater national interest during a time of unprecedented calamity, instead of seeing this as an opportunity to settle old scores. The party had been seriously considering the possibility of trade resumption shortly before its ouster and had even formally announced a restoration of trade ties in April last year before rolling it back. Though both the PML-N and PPP had loudly resisted restoration of trade back then, the PTI would serve the nation well by avoiding retaliation now. If it has reviewed and understood the plus points of trade with India — and its earlier moves suggest that it has — it must not prevent the people from benefiting from it.
Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2022