Suspending trade with India: Who will it hurt?

On Monday August 5, India repealed Article 370, an article that gave limited autonomy to Indian controlled Kashmir. Pakistan’s response, aside from resolutions and slogans, was to downgrade bilateral ties and suspend bilateral trade. This would mean a lot if India-Pakistan bilateral trade amounted to much, the reality is different.

As per the graphic below in the last ten years trade between the two countries has primarily comprised Indian exports to Pakistan with minimal Pakistani exports to India. From around INR 88 billion in 2009 they have gone up to INR 178 billion in 2019. 

Trade between India and Pakistan has never taken off because Pakistan has for decades linked trade to resolving the Kashmir dispute. The South Asian region is the least integrated of all regions in the world with intra-regional trade being around 3% compared to 25% in ASEAN (Association for South East Asian Nations) and 50% in North America under NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).

As per World Trade Organization (WTO) norms, in 1996 India granted Pakistan MFN (Most Favored Nation) status as it gave to all its neighbors, but Pakistan was never able to reciprocate as in the eyes of the Pakistani security establishment economic (and cultural and people to people) ties would hurt their cause (of India being the permanent enemy).

The last two governments – under PPP and PML-N – tried to give India MFN under the name NDMA (Non-Discriminatory Market Access) but the military viewed that as a red line that could not be crossed. After the February 2019 Pulwama terror attacks India withdrew MFN status and hiked import duties.

If India and Pakistan traded like India and China – where the bilateral trade stands at around USD 85-90 billion annually – then suspension of trade would count for a lot.

As of now, the suspension of almost non-existent trade may make good rhetoric but will not make any difference on the ground.

Outrage on Kashmir, only by Pakistanis, for Pakistanis

Apart from strengthening the Pakistani military and its control over Pakistani society, Pakistan has accomplished little through its periodic outbursts over the years on the issue of Kashmir. A similar outburst occurred recently after Pakistan was caught napping when India revoked Article 370.

Every Pakistani is taught from childhood that Kashmir is the shah rug or jugular vein and that Pakistan is incomplete without the ‘K’ (Kashmir) in the acronym that was Pakistan (Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh)

Since 1990, every year February 5 is celebrated in Pakistan as Kashmir day and is a national holiday. We shut down businesses and suffer loss of GDP. Does celebrating Kashmir Day or shutting down businesses help the Kashmir cause or the Kashmiris?

Pakistan has always sought to involve the international community, including the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in forcing India to talk about Kashmir and agree to a plebiscite as per the UNSC resolutions of the late 1940s-early 1950s. However, the last time the UNSC demanded a resolution was in 1957. That was before most Pakistanis were born!!!

The United States to whom we looked for years to force India to listen to us has stated that what had happened in Kashmir is an internal matter.

Pakistan’s rulers claim that the country is not isolated and we have friends and allies in the world who support our stand on Kashmir and India. Well we learned this week who are on our side: our brother Muslim country UAE has supported India, our South Asian neighbors – Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh – have come out on India’s side and even China’s protest has to do with the territory of Kashmir it claims – Ladakh – not with our aims!

The one place where a resolution was passed on Kashmir was in our own National Assembly. What good are resolutions if they only reflect our outrage at ourselves?

What have we as Pakistan done for the Kashmir cause aside from using it to claim that we are a champion of Muslim causes? There we should look within and ask why we keep quiet about the Uyghurs or our own Baloch and Pashtun brethren!

What have we as the Pakistani state done for the Kashmiri people aside from supporting terrorism that has only ended up hurting them, their cause and their struggle?

Either we should be able to convince the world about our stand or we should let Kashmiris decide their own actions rather than being dictated from Rawalpindi.

‘Modi catches Pakistan’s Military, PM, & Hyper-nationalists by surprise in Kashmir’

Most Pakistanis have been brought up believing that Kashmir is the ‘unfinished business of Partition’ and that one day all of Kashmir will become part of Pakistan. The massive defense expenditure, the exalted status of our defense forces and the continued perception of India as an existential threat to Pakistan are centered on the issue of Kashmir.

India has just upended all of this by repealing Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that granted Jammu and Kashmir (and Ladakh) a semi-autonomous status. As of August 5, 2019, the original state of Jammu and Kashmir has been bifurcated into two Union Territories: Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

Pakistan’s immediate reaction was that of surprise. On social media, Pakistani hypernatioanlists like Zaid Hamid went ballistic

Many Pakistani analysts changed their twitter profile picture to that of Yasin Malik, former head of the outfit Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF)

The government of Pakistan took 24 hours to respond: Chief of Army staff General Bajwa issued a statement saying that “his troops are prepared to “go to any extent” to help Kashmiris after the Indian government revoked Article 370 which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. “Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end. We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfil our obligations…,” Gen Bajwa told the army commanders.”

On August 6, Prime Minister Imran Khan constituted a “a seven-member committee to make recommendations to formulate Islamabad’s legal, political and diplomatic response to the change in the status of occupied Kashmir by the Indian government. The foreign minister, attorney general of Pakistan, foreign secretary, director general of Inter-Services Intelligence, director general military operations, director general Inter-Services Public Relations and Ahmer Bilal Soofi, Special Envoy to Prime Minister, have been appointed as members of the committee.”

Finally on Wednesday August 7th the National Security Committee (NSC) “resolved to downgrade Pakistan’s diplomatic relations with New Delhi and suspend all bilateral trade. Key decisions taken were: Downgrading of diplomatic relations, Suspension of bilateral trade, Review of bilateral arrangements, Matter to be taken to United Nations and August 14 to be observed in solidarity with Kashmiris. The meeting attended by the top civilian and military leadership also decided to recall Pakistan’s ambassador from New Delhi and expel the Indian envoy. “Our ambassadors will no longer be in New Delhi and their counterparts here will also be sent back,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told ARY News. The hours-long meeting was attended by the ministers for foreign affairs, defence, interior, education, human rights, Kashmir affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan and law; finance adviser; chairman of joint chiefs of staff committee, chief of army staff, chief of air staff, vice chief of naval staff, special assistant to the prime minister on information, director general Inter-Services Intelligence, director general Inter-Services Public Relations, secretary foreign affairs and other senior officers.”

India and Pakistan need to care for their citizens

In the last week there has been a rise in exchange of fire along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan, this has led to a rise in casualties on both sides, especially with the alleged use of cluster bombs, whose victims reportedly include children.

In this context the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) issued a statement asking both countries to take care of their citizens. According to HRCP increased deployment of troops and curfew-like restrictions on citizens are ominous signs of what may come. This could have grave repercussions for Kashmiri citizens on both sides of the Line of Control (LOC), should the escalation turn into armed conflict. With the gathering storm, the physical security and fundamental rights of Kashmiri citizens on both sides of the border are at stake. Their safety and rights must not be barefacedly trampled. Indeed, the need for regional peace and stability has never been greater. The international human rights community, too, must add its voice to those pleading for restraint and for saner voice to prevail.”

‘Military-owned Media House’ – Now What’s this about?

The Deep state and security establishment of every country is often deemed both by its supporters and detractors as being all powerful. Sometimes, the truth is that they make stupid mistakes like everyone else.

On August 3rd, an Indian twitter user posted the screenshot of the Job page from Fatima Jinnah Women University for “A social media specialist [female] in military owned media house” whose profile said “military owned media house is looking for a social media specialist (female) to attract and interact with targeted virtual communities and network users.”

Social media users had a field day with this photograph. Former investigative journalist and dissident now living in France, Taha Siddiqui tweeted this

Journalist and social media activist Naila Inayat tweeted

Maybe the next time the ISPR is looking to hire they should be more subtle.