Positive signals: a sigh of relief
THE troubled business community wants immediate opening of supply routes for NATO containers, fearing high economic and trade risks from possible American retaliation.
They believe an adverse US response could worsen the country’s trade with western partners, push Pakistan into political isolation and hurt businesses currently oriented towards US and Europe. It would mean more economic woes.
Some were disappointed with the US attitude towards Pakistan. They felt the US tactics of arm-twisting hardly complemented its policy of image-building in countries where it was not portrayed positively.
Last week the US toughened its stance over the delay in resolving contentious bilateral issues. It hinted at the possibility of economic sanctions if Pakistan failed to comply with its demand of opening land route and safe passage to containerised supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan.
It also threatened to block disbursement of military and civilian financial flows immediately.
Not ruling out a decisive action by Washington, Islamabad set into motion the process that it felt would ease bilateral tensions with the super power. Insiders in Islamabad said confusion created by public statements of different leaders was aimed to neutralise opposition to the decision of reopening NATO supply route.
“The decision has already been taken in the defence committee to revive the earlier arrangement with US on NATO supplies, on better terms if possible,” a well placed source told Dawn requesting anonymity.
The private sector is learnt to have heaved a sigh of relief at what it considered ‘a positive signal’. In a hostile international environment, with capital, financial and current account deficits, foreign reserves depleting, energy crisis deepening, investors’ confidence sinking, inflation and unemployment rising, the business community felt that an adamant policy of self-assertion could have backfired.
Many businessmen interviewed were critical of the government for delaying an unavoidable decision putting the future of the economy in jeopardy.
“These are difficult times with recession looming in many developed countries. An economically weak country like Pakistan cannot afford to gamble when odds are so high.”
“The government must stop socialising intricate issues like Pakistan-US diplomacy and restrain from delusional positioning. Their pretensions can cost us dearly”, Humayun Bashir, President Overseas Chamber of Commerce and Industry commented over telephone last week.
“For long we have looked at the world through the security prism. It has not led us anywhere. The country has not been able to capitalise on its potential that allows masses to earn a decent life. It is about time we re-orient our policies and let the economic interest emerge as the cornerstone of diplomacy”, a leading banker commented.
“We must shed illusions and try to adopt an approach based on realism. Our relationship with US is contractual. We should not consider ourselves equal to a country that contributes one-fourth of the world GDP and commands influence much bigger than its material share in the world economy,” he elaborated.
The banker cautioned: “It would be naïve to assume that Pakistan can survive in isolation. The fact is that multilateral donors and Europe will also drift if US shuns us.”
“I do not know the politics of it all but my business has suffered and I expect major fall in exports if the government fails to get better access to US and EU markets” Shabir Ahmed, Chairman Pakistan Bedwear Exporters Association, said.
Many businessmen contacted believe Pakistan should have opened supply route for NATO back in February after registering its protest with the US over the Salala incident.
The business tycoons were also critical of the government even for allowing bilateral relations to sink to a level where hawks in the US got a
chance to put the option of slapping economic sanctions on Pakistan on the table.
News reports suggest that people engaged in logistics are eagerly awaiting the re-opening of the NATO supply route. They also blamed the government for losses they incurred since November when the supplies were blocked.
The government, however, dismissed the criticism as misplaced. A member of the kitchen cabinet said the government was acting strictly within the framework approved by the parliament on the issue.
“We need to be mindful of public sentiments because we represent them. The consultation slows down the process of decision-making but creates ownership of the path chosen,” a senior minister said.
“I believe the business hierarchy understands the dynamics of power in the country. If it still blames politicians for the diplomatic failings it needs to remove its blinkers,” another leader of the ruling party said, expressing his displeasure.