Reeling under the pressure of a dwindling economy and the covid pandemic, Pakistan got a rude shock when the European Parliament (EP) passed a resolution to review its preferential trade agreement (GSP plus) with Pakistan over the country’s controversial blasphemy law. Pakistan’s business community has expressed concern over a possible revocation of the EU’s preferential trade status. Once again Imran Khan is caught in a web of its own doing. He has to make a Hobson’s choice of appeasing the Islamists or focus on economic revival. Conscious of the fallout of any attempt to tinker with the nation’s Blasphemy Law, the government so far has taken a decision to not to touch the Blasphemy Law but address other human rights concerns. Pakistan is realizing the pitfalls of its Blasphemy Law but lacks the political will and initiative to tamper with it since it is used freely by the majority Muslim community to ill treat and torture the minorities mainly Hindus, Sikhs and Christians.
The business community in Pakistan, however, is wary of the decision of Imran Khan. The community feels that revocation of the preferential trade status will cripple the nation’s textile industry the mainstay of its economy. Pakistan gains immensely from the GSP+ status and its revocation by the European Union will pose a big challenge for the Islamic Republic. As per estimates before the grant of preferential status Pakistan had a trade with EU (mainly textile exports) of about $6billion and increased to $8 billion after getting ESP+ status, thus trade amounting to $2 billion is at stake due to the EP’s new resolution. Incidentally, only last year it had decided to extend the status till end 2022. According to another data GSP + status added 1.6 million jobs while its withdrawal may lead to loss of more than a million job in a nation which has already lost 18 million jobs due to covid. If the government persists with its decision to ignore the EU resolution, it would have crippling effect on its collapsed economy.
Pakistan’s textile industry which accounts for nation’s 8.5% GDP and employs more than 70% of its labour and manufacturing force will be hit with a double whammy of the ban on import of products made out of Chinese cotton (main raw material used by Pakistani industry) and the GSP + status withdrawal. It would be left with no option but to resume trade ties with India. Either ways the Hawks in Pakistan will have to eat a humble pie and submit to the saner and rationale voices recommending geo-economics to prevail over the geopolitics.
The picture became clearer with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mohammad Qureshi, who recently had emerged as the leader of Pakistani hawks, and had forced Imran Khan to nip in the bud possibility of resumption of trade between the two belligerent neighbours himself taking a U-turn on Pakistan’s longstanding condition of revocation of Article 370 as a pre-condition for any resumption of peace process between India and Pakistan. In an interview with a Pakistani TV channel Samma he admitted, “370 is India’s internal matter” thus conceding to the firm Indian stand that the abrogation of Article 370 is its internal matter and Pakistan does not have any locus-standi to demand its revocation. It not only ignited a political slugfest within the country but also shocked many within Kashmir. Of course, it would be an act of naivety to easily trust the dubious state of Pakistan.
Pakistan is desperate to mend fences with India but unwilling to give up terrorism. It is trying all means to build a narrative that the Modi government is acting as a hurdle in ushering peace in the sub-continent while Pakistan is even willing to walk an extra-mile for the same thus hoping to bring upon international pressure on India. But going through the interview till the end, it becomes obvious that Pakistan is also trying to play mind games. It is still not ready for any unconditional talks but has merely shifted the goal post from abandoning revocation of Article 370 to restoration of Article 35A as the pre-condition for holding of peace talks/ resumption of trade.
Pakistan’s desperation can be gauged from the fact that while Qureshi is busy building yet another narrative, Prime Minister Imran Khan has rushed to Saudi Arabia to mend fences with the Arab Islamic nation which has been unhappy with Pakistan’s behaviour ever since the revocation of Article 370 by India in August 2019. As per a joint statement released by the Pakistani foreign office it has been claimed that Saudi Arabia has urged India and Pakistan to resolve their issues. Definitely, there is Imran hand behind this.
As mentioned earlier Pakistan to hoodwink the global community is trying to shift the goal post. India understands Pakistan’s game plan very well and is unlikely to fall prey. It is now trying to sell the narrative that through abrogation of Article 35A, India is attempting to change the demography of Jammu & Kashmir. Incidentally, J&K has 60% Muslim population overall and the Valley’s 97% population is Muslim. Where is the question of demographic change which has already been done by the Kashmiri Muslims backed by Pakistan sponsored Islamic Jihadists through a well-planned process of ethnic cleansing forcing the Hindu Kashmiri Pandits to flee their home and hearth in a mass exodus in 1990. Pakistan simply wants to keep the region disputed and is attempting to sell the old wine in a new bottle.
But changing the goal post to 35A is equally dubious. Pakistan sees Jammu & Kashmir through the prism of religion. It wants Kashmiri Muslims to remain isolated from India but them to continue to colonise the other two – parts namely Jammu & Ladakh. That’s why Qureshi is also selling the narrative of “demographic change” as propagated by the Gupkar Alliance, now under a political slumber. Not very long ago, Qureshi had boasted of taking the matter of abrogation of 370 to International Court of Justice. He had claimed the Indian act as illegal and against the international law. But it had to recant and retract when detailed examination shocked the Pakistan establishment about the validity of Indian action. Not only that, its repeated attempts to internationalize the issue failed with even the Islamic world refusing to toe its line.
Pakistan was all the while under the notion that “special status” enjoyed by J&K was due to Article 370. When they did deep study to go to ICJ, it was realized that not 370 but 35A gave the erstwhile state the so-called special status. Pakistan is least interested in the welfare of Kashmiris but wants always a pliable government in Srinagar to further its national interests. That’s why it harps on the restoration of special status. The government of India is very clear. Both the articles are equally damaging and give leeway to promote separatism and terrorism. 35A draws its strength from 370. Pakistan’s shifting of goal post is to cover the folly they have been making since 1948 and is aimed at telling the world that for sake of peace it is even willing to compromise on its earlier stand. Pakistan wants to have the things both ways, heads I win tails you lose.
(The author is a Jammu based veteran political commentator, columnist and security and strategic analyst. The views expressed in this article are entirely personal.)
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