Pak army supports trade ties with India

Islamabad: Pakistan`s security establishment supports the civilian government`s efforts to normalise trade relations with India as it believes the move will boost the country`s economy and help create grounds for resolving political disputes between the two nations, security officials said.

"The Pakistan army supports trade with India because all stakeholders in the country have been taken on board and the chambers of commerce want it," the security officials said during an interaction with Indian journalists. "The army fully supports trade because it will boost our economy," one official said. The security establishment backs the decision to normalise trade relations because it was made by a civilian government that is a coalition of various parties which have all supported the move, said the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The security officials indicated that since political disputes between India and Pakistan can neither be put in cold storage nor resolved overnight, the two countries need to forge "some mechanism" that showed to the people that they are working to address outstanding issues. "Trade may not be the alternative but it shows that the two sides are talking and taking some tangible steps. Unless something is seen to be happening, non-state actors will get fuel to add to their propaganda that both governments are not doing anything. We need to keep talking," one official said.

At the same time, the two countries must remain prepared for "spoilers," the officials said. In this regard, they referred to the situation in 2001, when a terrorist attack on India`s Parliament was blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed. That "situation in 2001" had led to the massing of troops "on the border and brought us close to war," the officials said.

Giving "ultimatums" about another Mumbai-like assault or an attack on the US will "only provide an incentive to non-state actors" as neither India nor Pakistan can guarantee that there would not be another incident, the officials contended. The security officials sought to distance the establishment from Pakistani-American terrorist David Coleman Headley`s confession that linked an ISI official identified only as "Major Iqbal" to the planning and execution of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The officials contended that Major Iqbal was a retired official and that "retired officers are as good as a civilian."

There would be "no end to the blame game" regarding the Mumbai attacks, they further contended. In his testimony as a US government witness in a Chicago court last year, Headley had said that Major Iqbal had directed that a Jewish community centre should be added to the list of targets in Mumbai. Headley, who testified during the trial of Mumbai attacks accused Tahawwur Rana, had also linked former military officer Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed alias Pasha, to the assault on India`s financial hub that killed 166 people.