Too little, too late—this is what we can say about India’s decision to withdraw the most favored nation or MFN status to Pakistan. The withdrawal should have come years ago, at least when Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, but it has come after a jihadist slaughtered over 40 men of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir.
While the single-largest suicide bombing attack in the country was carried out by a local youth, the inspiration and the wherewithal came from the Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). The JeM has accepted that.
Under the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the MFN status is given to an international trade partner so that trade remains non-discriminatory trade between all WTO countries. We said that India should have withdrawn the MFN status to Pakistan years ago, because it had not extended the same courtesy to India in the first place. It was in 1996 that India had accorded the MFN status to Pakistan, but there was no reciprocation; it was a one-way MFN. In other words, there was asymmetry in the MFN issue.
There was an interesting reason for Islamabad’s pigheadedness over the issue. In Urdu, Pakistan’s national language, the term ‘most favored nation’ translates into ‘sabse pyara mulk’ which technically means the ‘most loveable nation.’ Now this goes against the grain of Pakistan, the nation that came into being over the negation of the idea of India and everything that India stands for. Therefore, how could be India termed the most loveable nation, even if it were just a technical term in international economy?
India can’t do anything meaningful against Pakistan when conventional thinking dominates the establishment. The same kind of statements are being made that we now regard as clichéd. The Prime Minister, for instance, said: “I want to tell the terror outfits and those aiding and abetting them that they have made a big mistake. They will have to pay a very heavy price for their actions.”
But, Mr. Prime Minister, why were these outfits not made to pay a very heavy price for their actions perpetrated before February 14? Had that been the case, they won’t have dared to slaughter the dozens of CRPF personnel in the first place.
“Let me assure the nation that those behind this attack, the perpetrators of this attack will be punished,” Modi said. Haven’t we heard this before a million times?
Soon after the Cabinet Committee on Security decided to abrogate Pakistan’s MFN status, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Ministry of External Affairs will initiate all possible steps to ensure complete isolation from the international community of Pakistan. But why didn’t such steps taken till today? Were we waiting for the suicide bomber to blow up the CRPF vehicle?
Then there is another CCS member, Rajnath Singh, Minister of Home Affairs, famous for his kadi ninda (strong condemnation) statements. He said that the nation will not forget the supreme sacrifice of our brave jawans, adding that their sacrifice will not go in vain. How? By withdrawing the MFN status?
It needs to be mentioned here that the government’s action on MFN is not going to hurt Pakistan, for our trade with it is meager—$2.6 billion. In comparison, the India-Bangladesh trade is in the region of $8 billion.
At the end of the day, the government’s reaction to the Pulwama outrage has been routine. Mostly angry words, but then words break no bones. Solid actions are needed, which don’t seem to be forthcoming.