Pakistan can't have any trade relations with India till New Delhi reviews its 2019 decision to scrap the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Friday while chairing a special meeting to review bilateral ties.
The meeting in Islamabad – which was attended by Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Khan's special assistant on national security and strategic policy Moeed Yusuf – was convened after Pakistan's Cabinet on Thursday shot down an official proposal to allow imports of cotton and sugar from India to control prices and cope with a shortage.
"After the discussions [on Thursday and Friday], the prime minister clearly instructed that Pakistan will not have any kind of trade with India till India reviews the steps it took in [Jammu and Kashmir] on August 5, 2019," Yusuf told Ary News channel after the meeting.
According to Geo News channel, which cited a source, Khan told the meeting, "It is our principled stance not to resume trade with India until the Kashmir issue is resolved".
Any decision on resuming trade with India "will give the wrong impression that Pakistan has neglected the people of Kashmir," Khan was quoted as saying.
A Cabinet meeting chaired by Khan on Thursday rejected a decision made a day earlier by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet to allow limited imports from India. Pakistan had unilaterally suspended trade with India in August 2019 to protest the changes in Jammu and Kashmir.
On Thursday, Qureshi said that the Cabinet deferred the move to allow imports from India so that there could be more deliberations on the issue. He also said it wouldn't be possible for Islamabad to normalise bilateral relations till New Delhi reviews its actions on Jammu and Kashmir.
Yusuf said the ECC was the forum that decides on all proposals with a commercial angle. "When it goes to the ECC, the committee makes decisions based on economic and commercial considerations," he said.
The matter of imports from India went to the ECC, and "on a commercial basis, it was decided that [cotton and sugar] be imported from India as the prices are lower in India," he said.
The ECC's recommendation went to the Cabinet, "which is a political and strategic forum" and has the final say in approving such matters, Yusuf noted.
"In this case, this issue was discussed though it was not on the Cabinet's agenda [on Thursday] and the prime minister gave the directive that this decision should be deferred and it should be immediately reviewed because matters involving India are not just about trade and many political and strategic issues are linked with them," Yusuf said.
When external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi was asked about Pakistan's flip-flop on resuming trade at a news briefing in New Delhi on Friday, he replied, "We have seen reports on this but as is evident, we are not the right party to whom this question should be directed."
The Khan government's decision to defer the move to allow cotton imports from India has annoyed Pakistan's textile sector, Dawn newspaper reported.
Pakistan Apparel Forum chairman Jawed Bilwani described the recommendation to allow imports from India as "realistic and the need of the hour", and said Pakistan's Cabinet must give it serious consideration. The rejection of the proposal would convey a negative message to foreign buyers as cotton yarn isn't available in Pakistan, he said.
Former ambassador Vishnu Prakash said, "This is just Pakistan being Pakistan, this decision typifies them. They have created so much emotional baggage that draining the swamp isn't going to be easy. This isn't just about economic considerations but there are emotional and obsessive political factors that are not allowing them to come to terms with reality."