Pakistan to consider resuming trade with India: FM Dar

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LONDON: Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar has said Pakistan will mull reviving trade relations with India years after they were suspended due to Narendra Modi-led government’s decision to abrogate the semi-autonomy of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).

“Pakistani businessmen want trade with India to resume,” the foreign minister said while addressing the media at the Pakistan High Commission in London at the end of his visit to the UK and Europe on Saturday.

Pakistan downgraded its ties with India after the Modi-led government unilaterally changed the special status of the occupied valley in August 2019 — the decision that Islamabad believed undermined the environment for holding talks between the neighbours.

Pakistan has linked its decision to normalising ties with India with the restoration of the special status of the IIOJK. Despite the frosty ties, the two countries agreed to renew the 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC) in February 2021.

Lately, Indian PM Narendra Modi congratulated Shehbaz Sharif on becoming the head of Pakistan’s government, prompting hopes for a diplomatic thaw.

“Congratulations to [Shehbaz Sharif] on being sworn in as the prime minister of Pakistan,” Modi wrote in a brief message on X, formerly Twitter.

Shehbaz Sharif responded days later with an equally curt post, thanking Modi for his “felicitations”.

In the same presser, Dar condemned threats to the family of Donald Lu, the US Assistant Secretary of State accused by former prime minister Imran Khan of playing a role in the fall of his regime in April 2022.

At the Congressional hearing “Pakistan After the Elections: Examining the Future of Democracy in Pakistan and the US-Pakistan Relationship”, the US assistant secretary revealed his family had received threats after allegations against him by the former Pakistan PM.

Dar said: “Threats to his wife are unfortunate as he said in his opening statement. He revealed this at the sponsored US congress hearing that his wife was threatened. What happened is sad, regardless of who made threats to Lu’s wife. This reflects badly on Pakistan, no matter who is involved.”

Dar said that this would be good if overseas Pakistanis became apolitical while living abroad and thought only about the state and not their political parties.

At the hearing, Donald Lu termed the allegations against him — which formed the crux of the ‘cablegate’ cipher controversy — by the former as a “conspiracy theory, lie and complete falsehood”.

He said: “I want to be very clear on this point. These allegations — this conspiracy theory — is a lie. It is a complete falsehood. I have reviewed the press reporting related to this, what is called the cipher in Pakistan, the alleged leaked diplomatic cable from the embassy here. It is not accurate. At no point does it accuse the US government or me personally of taking steps against Imran Khan. And thirdly, the other person in the meeting, the then-ambassador of Pakistan to the US, has testified to his own government that there was no conspiracy.”

The US diplomat said: “There is a line of acceptability and I think at times, some of the free speech has verged into threats of violence which is not acceptable in our society.”

Dar objected to the observations made about the Pakistan elections at the US hearings. He said allegations of rigging made by PTI made no sense because PTI had won in KP overwhelmingly and it had no objection in KP but raised objections elsewhere. “Whenever a party loses, they make allegations. This is a norm. There are laws and courts to look at such allegations and one should approach the courts. There is higher judiciary. Its not fair to malign a country.”

FM Dar said Pakistan suffered a lot in the last few years and could not afford a repeat of the same.

He reminded that Pakistan was making “huge progress” under Nawaz Sharif in 2017 but then his govt was destablised and removed. He said a great opportunity was ruined and credit for that “destruction goes to the PTI project that was launched for experimentation”.

“The quagmire is bigger now and we can move ahead only if we work together.”

Dar said that the new Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb is an experienced person and can effectively deal with the economy. “Aurangzeb is a senior and seasoned banker. We have considered him for the financial posts before but it didn’t materialise. I am sure he will do his best. He has the support of the whole govt.

“There was a lot of hype about me. It’s the prerogative of the PM to appoint a minister and I have said this before too that finance is our domestic need and foreign ministry is the face of Pakistan. Both require hard work and both ministers will support each other. Conventional diplomacy is over and now is the time for economic diplomacy,” said Dar when asked why he didn’t become the finance minister.

Dar said he had met senior UK govt officials as well as leaders of various European countries and these meetings were great in substance for Pakistan.

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