The recent flip-flop over the import of sugar and cotton from India does not provide an edifying picture of how the government is being run. The decision to make the imports was made by the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet, only to be reversed by the full Cabinet. The ECC decision was based on the Commerce Ministry summary, which had been approved by Prime Minister Imran Khan in his capacity of Commerce Minister. The Cabinet has every right to reverse ECC decisions, but it does call into question the entire Cabinet committee mechanism. Cabinet committees are meant to reduce the burden of the Cabinet by doing the necessary spadework and formulating a recommendation about the action the Cabinet should take.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has come up with the justification that an import decision would reverse the country’s policy on Kashmir, as the ban on trade was imposed because of India’s repeal of Kashmir’s special status. We are expected to believe that Imran did not know this when approving the Commerce Ministry summary. Of course, that is unless we accept SAPM Moeed Yusuf’s argument that Imran expressed one opinion as Commerce Minister, while knowing as PM that trade was undesirable. True, a summary expresses the opinions of subordinate officials, but the official at the top is expected to read what he is signing. If Mr Khan is so rushed that he does not read summaries, he should find a full time Commerce Minister.
Due diligence would have averted all this. Proper discussion would have elicited that any such decision would involve a change of policy, and either those proposing it would have convinced those opposing it, and would have given up the proposal. The recent flip-flop has led to damage to the nation’s image internationally. Pakistan’s word is not its bond. The government should make sure that there is certainty in how its decisions are perceived. Just to take this example, the decisions of all intending importers will be affected. While sugar is a consumer item, cotton was supposed to be export raw material. The government does not need the flak it is getting for having changed its decision to suit any business lobbies, being already in enough trouble over its handling of the economy.