The Pakistan government’s delay in finalising giving India the Most-Favoured Nation (MFN) status is an indication of long overdue cold feet. MFN status had been promised to India by the end of the current year. Senior Minister Makhdum Amin Fahim, who holds the commerce portfolio, said this on Saturday when saying that his ministry was talking to representatives of agriculture and industry and taking into account their concerns.  He said that he had also spoken to his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma about this. After granting India MFN status, Pakistan would have opened its markets to Indian goods, with the result that Pakistani commerce and industry would have been destroyed. Pakistani goods would have been stopped through non-tariff barriers and several other methods, with the result that the existing trade balance between India and Pakistan, already exceeding $1 billion in India’s favour, would merely increase. The people of Pakistan were also puzzled by the agreement due to its effect on the Kashmir issue, which is the core issue between the two countries, and was kept off the table.

Pakistan found itself in this unenviable position because it was railroaded into talks with India as a way of keeping the peace between the South Asian neighbours. The Makhdum’s statement was accompanied by news of a strike in Pulwama, Occupied Kashmir, where the firing on those who protested the killing of two young people caused clashes and led to a strike call for Monday. Because of his support for the strike, All Parties Hurriyet Conference leader Syed Ali Geelani has been placed under house arrest, and a curfew imposed in Pulwama. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, addressing a gathering in Srinagar on his return from Pakistan, said that India needed to show flexibility, abandon its stubbornness, and stop putting obstacles in the way of intra-Kashmiri talks. He praised Pakistan for giving its unconditional support to the Kashmir cause, even though it faced so many problems of its own, as well as upcoming elections.

The first item on the agenda must be Kashmir, without tangible progress towards a solution all other matters between the two countries will be based on a volatile foundation. The Pakistani authorities must give their full support to the people of Kashmir in their struggle for exercising their right of self-determination.