WASHINGTON - A US expert on South Asia has urged Washington to offer a trade deal conditioned on progress in the relations between Pakistan and India in an effort to boost Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s economic stabilisation agenda as he begins his third term.

At the same time, Daniel Markey, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said, "The looming question is whether Sharif has learned from the past: Have the experiences of collapsed governments and lengthy exile turned him into a committed democrat and statesman, or will his authoritarian, crony-capitalist tendencies resurface?."

In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Friday, he noted, "There is an overriding sense that it is in the United States interest for Sharif to succeed, even if his government will be less 'pro-American' than its predecessor."

In this context, Markey, a former State Department official, called for a phased reduction of US tariffs on textiles and apparel for Pakistan and India, conditioned on improvements in Indian-Pakistani trade.  "Simply put, the United States would make it cheaper for India and Pakistan to sell their goods here as long as the two South Asian neighbors knock down existing barriers to trade between their countries."

In the post-9/11 phase of intense bilateral engagement, Islamabad has been repeatedly asking Washington to help lift impediments in the way of its textile exports to the large American market and even begin a preferential trade programme as part of efforts to spur its economic growth.

Yet, according to Markey, political barriers on Capitol Hill, primarily from a handful of textile-producing states, have stymied such initiatives for years.

“The reality is that neither US producers nor consumers would be hurt by Pakistani imports. These goods are not currently made in the United States; if anything, the deal would shift some production away from China.”

 “A trade deal backed by pro-India, pro-Pakistan and pro-Indo-Pakistani peace groups would have a far better chance of overcoming legislative hurdles in Washington,” he noted.

The emphasis on “trade, not aid” has great political appeal in Pakistan as well. Many Pakistanis, including prominent members of Sharif’s party, have bemoaned the culture of dependency that US aid can foster.

“Moreover, a US trade deal conditioned on progress between India and Pakistan offers a future-oriented incentive for Islamabad and New Delhi to continue taking precisely the steps they claim to favour — and ones that reduce the likelihood of another war between those nuclear powers.

"The added incentive of access to US markets could help overcome lingering concerns among certain business interests in India and Pakistan that fear competition from the other side of the border,” Markey argued.