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MFN sword on Saarc meet

Berlin, May 27: If Pakistan refuses to accord the most-favoured nation (MFN) status to India, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would not attend the next Saarc summit whenever, and if, it took place.

“If Pakistan fails to give us MFN status, then nothing happens. Then we will not go to Saarc. That is absolutely clear,” a government official said.

Pakistan is the host of the next summit.

The MFN status refers to a non-discriminatory trade relationship between two countries. If Pakistan, for example, decides to give India such a status, it only means that Indian exports to Pakistan would treated on a par with, say, exports from Vietnam, Bulgaria or Poland. Contrary to popular belief, according MFN status to a country does not mean bestowing any special trade-related favours.

India has already granted the facility to Pakistan.

In the present Indo-Pak scenario, a breakthrough in the relationship is expected through trade-related measures. In his telephone conversation with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali on April 28, Vajpayee had impressed upon him the need to improve trade ties.

In his statement on Pakistan, Vajpayee told Parliament that in his conversation with Jamali, he had “emphasised the importance of substantive progress on the decisions for regional trade and economic cooperation taken at the Saarc Kathmandu summit. Agreements arrived at Kathmandu must be implemented.”

The official, however, said he recognised that it might be difficult for Pakistan to give MFN status to India. And this process, he argued, may take a considerable amount of time.

There were apprehensions within Pakistan that Indian goods would flood their market. This may or may not be true, but it is a fear that is voiced often by Pakistani businessmen, the official said.

General Pervez Musharraf may also have a tough time according MFN status to India. It would mean giving up the centrality of the Kashmir issue, the official pointed out. This might not be to the liking of those political forces whose survival depends on continuous agitation on the Kashmir question.

However, many in Pakistan believe that de-linking normalisation of trade from Kashmir was in fact the way forward to improving relations with India. “Even the Pakistani MPs who visited India recently said as much — that we should open up trade and commerce between the two countries without holding it hostage to the resolution of the Kashmir issue,” the official said.

As for Kashmir, he said, there would no movement forward until cross-border terrorism comes to an end, reiterating the known Indian position. “This much is clear even to the Pakistanis by now,” he said.

India has repeatedly told Pakistan of the need to create a conducive atmosphere for a sustained dialogue, for which cross-border terrorism has to be ended and its supporting infrastructure dismantled.

In terms of the immediate normalisation of ties to take them back to the pre-December 13, 2001 level, the official said, India was already moving towards that situation.

“We have announced the restoration of the Delhi-Lahore bus service and have released 70 fishermen and 60 civilians. Pakistan has sought the approval of their nominee for the post of high commissioner to India. The most likely next step, I presume, would be the restoration of civil aviation links,” he said.

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