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Pakistan 'Defers' Plans to Resume Trade with India

By Ayaz Gul April 01, 2021

Pakistan's Cabinet postponed plans Thursday to resume trade links with archrival India, apparently after strong domestic backlash against such a move.

The government's key decision-making Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) allowed Pakistani importers Wednesday to urgently procure cotton and sugar from Indian suppliers to help bridge domestic shortfalls and soaring prices.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Thursday the Cabinet meeting did not endorse the ECC decision, and it was "deferred because it required further deliberation."

Pakistan suspended trade ties with India in August 2019, when New Delhi revoked the semiautonomous status of Indian-administered Kashmir.

"As long as India doesn't review the August 5, 2019, unilateral steps it took, it would not be possible to normalize relations with India," the Pakistani foreign minister quoted Prime Minister Imran Khan as telling his Cabinet.

Kashmir is split between India and Pakistan. Both claim all of the Himalayan region and have fought two wars over it since the two countries gained independence from Britain in 1947.

New Delhi did not immediately offer any reaction to Thursday's move by Islamabad. India previously has dismissed criticism of its Kashmir-related actions as an interference in its internal affairs.

Indian Minster of State for Commerce and Industry Hardeep Singh Puri, while replying to a question on whether bilateral trade was likely to resume, told the national parliament last week his country "desires normal relations, including on trade" with Pakistan.

"Pakistan unilaterally suspended bilateral trade with India in August 2019. It is for Pakistan to review its unilateral measures on trade," Puri said.

The nuclear-armed rival nations have in recent weeks exchanged peace overtures, easing mutual tensions and raising hopes for a rapprochement.

Khan replied to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's letter Tuesday, saying the people of Pakistan "desire peaceful, cooperative relations" with India.

"We are convinced that durable peace and stability in South Asia is contingent upon resolving all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, in particular the Jammu & Kashmir dispute," Khan wrote.

Modi in his letter sent last week extended greetings to Pakistan on the country's national day.

"As a neighboring country, India desires cordial relations with the people of Pakistan. For this, an environment of trust, devoid of terror and hostility, is imperative," Modi wrote.

The flurry of goodwill messages come more than a month after Indian and Pakistani military commanders announced unexpectedly that they were immediately halting hostilities along their de facto Kashmir frontier to reinstate a 2002 cease-fire there.

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