Indian needs to get to Afghanistan, and to do this it needs Pakistan’s permission. They want to export over a million tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan through Pakistan’s land route, and the flour milling industry is terrorised by this development. As of yet, the government is not giving permission, but Indian wheat is much cheaper than ours, and India will find another way if we say no. If we let them pass, with high transport and toll charges, we stand to gain. However, this will cripple local industry and we will soon be sitting on a massive pileup of expensive wheat that nobody wants to buy. Indian farmers are given subsidised inputs and rumor has it that the Indian government is helping drive down prices with even more subsidies, the Indian government might not be playing by free trade rules. But the numbers speak for themselves. Indian wheat at Rs 2,900 per tonne in Afghanistan versus Pakistani wheat at Rs 3,400 per tonne. We will lose a traditional market that consumes over half a million tonne of flour from us.

We can’t and won’t object to Afghanistan taking its business elsewhere, but leading India to Afghanistan is asking for too much. The new Indian government has been a bull in a China shop, becoming more and more aggressive as time has progressed. Liberalisation of trade aside, India threatens us on an almost weekly basis. Much needs to be sorted before we can let them use us for economic gain. Giving them a transit trade facility has to be a strategic and economic decision. If we can use this as a bargaining chip to bring India back to the table over water issues and Kashmir, if we can use this to get some concessions for ourselves, we must explore the option.

The other concern is losing out on regional trade, as we can’t compete with India. Local agriculture needs to become competitive, and not through blanket government protection but by its own merits. However, the government can and should help with input and infrastructure. Better water and energy facilities and the subsidisation of pesticides can go a long way. The steel mills are shut, we are losing out on the international export of textiles due to competition from Bangladesh and Egypt, we haven’t been able to create consistent quality mangoes for export, and then two months of dharnas were a shock to the transport business at a time when the economy needed a boost. We can’t lose wheat too.