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Slow progress

January 05, 2013

PAKISTAN may have missed the deadline to grant Most Favoured Nation status to India, but this should not necessarily be taken as a source of discouragement. It’s important that in a recent cabinet meeting, the government reiterated its resolve to normalise trade ties with India and held out the hope that this can be achieved before the end of February. The fact that the talks have continued even as differences have festered in other areas of cooperation is a positive sign. Both sides have much to gain from continued progress towards normalising trade ties with each other. For Pakistan, an important promise that the talks carry is to rectify the priorities that have informed foreign policy over the past six decades. For too long Pakistan has subordinated economic priorities to misplaced security considerations. The process of normalising trade ties is the best antidote to this upside-down state of affairs.

But a legacy decades in the making will not yield its ground very easily. Those who would prefer to continue seeing India as a strategic competitor instead of a trading partner have deep roots in the structures of power in Pakistan and are skilled at mobilising support for their whims and wishes. It is unfortunate that the final and most delicate leg of the entire process should come at a time when the noise and chaos of an approaching election has weakened the hand of the civilian government. But fortune must not be allowed to hold this imperative hostage. The trade and business groups that are voicing concerns regarding the whole process are a normal part of any trade negotiation, and if a few industries need to be convinced into going along, then so be it. The real opposition to watch out for comes from those who are wedded to a destructive past and are now discovering that they stand to become increasingly marginalised as the process gathers momentum. Through it all, the government must navigate the choppy waters ahead with care and see the process through to completion. The granting of MFN status to India should ideally happen before the government relinquishes power to an interim set-up.