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A selfless lobbyist

A Republican Party supporter Pakistani American Sajid Tarar is selflessly and diligently doing high profile lobbying for Pakistan in the power centers of United States. He assumed the status of an iconic face of President Donald Trump since he articulated his point of view at the convention right after the Republican President elect took oath of office. Sajid Tarar insight of a political analysis and prediction is superb. Right from the primary round of nominations in 2016 till the day of elections he was quite confident and upbeat that his favorite candidate Donald Trump will win. On the day of election results, a Pakistani American affiliated with the Democratic Party appeared on CNN and claimed that Hillary Clinton will turn the table on Republican candidate , when results from California and other Democrats strong hold states come. Sajid Tarar rebutted that claim like soothsayer.

An American NGO, Pakistan American Press Association organized an event with regards the upcoming US elections. Speaking on this occasion, Sajid Tarar tried to allay the misgivings that President Donald Trump is against Islam and Muslims. In his opening remarks Sajid Tarar said that it is wrong impression of Donald Trump,  “he is nether against or the Muslims.” Likewise, he defended the immigration policy of President Trump.

Sajid Tarar support for the Republican Party and Donald Trump is based on realism and rooted in ups and down of Pak-US relations since mid-1950s till 2007. It is a matter of common knowledge that tilt of Republican Administration has been visible towards Pakistan. During these administrations Pakistan used to get valuable military and economic assistance, whereas during the administrations of Democratic Party, Pakistan had to face embargo on the supply of military hardware and sometimes squeeze on economic assistance. The recent example is the dinted relations between Pakistan and the United States during President Barak Obama Administration, although the previous governments in Pakistan claimed that Secretary of State Jhon Kerry is the friend of Pakistan. The ruptures in ruptures in relations were then repaired and reset in President Trump Administration.

Lobbying for Pakistan single handedly in the US is a herculean task, near to impossible, when one is confronted with a strong Indian lobby supported by the united Indian community comprising businessmen, traders, doctors, academia and intellectuals and above all by their diplomats.  Such unflinching support is hardly available to an influential Pakistani American if he wants to do lobbying for Pakistan. It is incumbent on the Pakistan’s diplomats to mobalise the Pakistani community by keeping a close liaison with them for strengthening the hands of selfless lobbyist like Sajid Tarar by way of public diplomacy.

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Kalailzad visit

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalzad met with Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and discussed with him matters pertaining to the Afghan peace talks, being held between the representatives of Kabul government and the Taliban regional security and economic cooperation. After discussion in the meeting with Pakistan’s military leadership, the US point-man on Afghanistan felt confident that solution to the decades’ long Afghan conflict can found, if national interest is given precedence over personal interest. Zalmay Khalilzad euologised the sincere and the positive and active role of the Prime Minster and Chief of Army Staff for bring the stakeholders of Afghan conflict to the negotiation table.

In the meeting with US Special Representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa reinforced Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Vision regarding peace and connectivity in the region, adding that all elements of national power are united to making that vision a reality to ensure the long awaited peace, progress and prosperity in the region.

Just after forming government, the current political leadership framed and implemented a clear Afghan policy that aimed at bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan, on which hinges the security and connectivity of entire region that encompass central Asia and South Asia. The ruling political leadership of Pakistan did engage all Afghan opposition groups, President Ashraf Ghani and Head of the Afghan High Commission for and Reconciliation Dr. Abdullah and Abdullah to bring all stakeholders to the negotiation table for reaching an inclusive political settlement of Afghan conflict. The efforts bore fruit and at last the cherished dream of holding intra-Afghan dialogue came true.

Ironically, the US administration on the one hand appreciates the positive role of Pakistan for maintain peace and stability in the region but on the other it supports the Indian narrative of cross border terrorism by maligning the freedom struggle of Kashmiri Muslims. The statement issued after the 17th meeting of US-India Counterterrorism group held in Washington DC the other day pointed an accusing finger on certain militant groups banned in Pakistan to be involved in the so called terrorist activities in the occupied Kashmir. As a matter of fact the Kashmiri Intifada that started in 1989 is a homegrown freedom struggle, which the United States has unjustly equated with terrorism to support the Indian stance.

The Indian held Kashmir is under siege since August 5, 2019 after abrogation of its special constitutional status by scraping Article 370 of the Indian Constitutions. Since then atrocities are being perpetrated on innocent Kashmiris and their youth is being picked from homes and later killed by way of extrajudicial killings. The US Administration has adopted an oblivious attitude towards the gross human rights violations in the occupied Kashmir and has shut eyes to the BJP government policy of genocide and ethnic cleansing in the Kashmir valley under the Hindu Supremacist ideology of RSS of Hindutva. The demography of occupied Kashmir is being changed by gunpoint to implement the anti-native domicile policy and establish numerous Hindu settlements to convert the majority of Muslims into minority.

Last year Hurrat Leader Syed Ali Geelani had made an SOS call to the international community cautioning against the brute policy of ethnic cleansing in occupied Kashmir. The US Administration did not treat it worth consideration, although every year State Department issues report on human rights violations made in various developing countries. It is highly irrational that the United State is creating paradoxical situation by applying double standards in the context of regional stability. They should not forget that Pakistan has always been an ally of the US in the pursuit of peace and stability of the region. Its vague policy on Kashmir gives license to India to continue brutalities in occupied Kashmir.

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Rashakai special economic zone

Setting up of nine special economic zones had been conceived under the umbrella of CPEC to herald second phase of industrialisation in the country. The ground breaking ceremony of one such zone in Faisalabad, Allama Iqbal economic zone, was performed by the Prime Minister last year. Pakistan and China is signing an agreement to develop Rashakai Special Economic Zone near Mardan in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. The economic zone will provide favourable business environment to attract foreign direct investment, said Chairman Board of Investment Arif Bukhari in a presses release.

The provincial government on its part had acquired land and had built road infrastructure and developed industrial plots. The provision of electricity and gas fall within the domain of federal government. Nothing has yet come to light as to whether power division has finalised the PC-1 for the building of 200 KV Grid Station for electricity supply to Rashakai Special Economic Zone. Similarly, a PC-1 has to be finalised by Petroleum Division for the supply of gas to this economic zone.

Local entrepreneurs are eager to have joint ventures with foreign investors, which will be possible only when the technological base of existing industries is upgraded to contemporary technologies. Chairman State Engineering Corporation had drawn the attention of business leaders towards it in his meeting with them at Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Majority of local industries, except few, have Research and Development units. Foreign direct investment yield maximum benefit when programmes of indegenisation of imported technologies and skill development are implemented. At present launching of these programmes have not been priortised. Government organisations of R&D are redundant as under public sector 0.42 percent of the GDP is spent on it. Private sector is shy of investment in R&D. Moreover, no linkage exists between government organisations of R&D and private sector industries. Likewise, the institutes of vocational and technical training are not producing the skilled manpower of the required caliber, which would be needed for the industries to be set up in special economic zones. Proper homework has to be done by the federal and provincial governments to provide all ingredients that make economic environment conducive for foreign direct investment.

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Targeted operation against militants

Over the past several months spike in militancy has been witnessed, particularly in the two southern districts of North Waziristan and South Waziristan. There have been frequent attacks on security forces and target killings of civilian. Security forces are carrying out successful intelligence based operations that are targeted against the hide outs of militants, sneaking into the tribal districts from Afghanistan through unfrequented routs. Splinter groups of banned TTP have united inside Afghanistan, which has enhanced the threat level of terrorist activities in the merged districts of frontline province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.

A high value terrorist commander, Ihsan Ullah alias Ihsan Sanary along with three other terrorists were killed on Sunday in an Intelligence Based Operation in Ghariom, Shaku near the inter-district boundary of North and South Waziristan. The ruthless militants’ commander had masterminded numerous terrorist attacks. In the recent one in Shaktu several soldiers and officers including Captain Sabih and Lieutenant Nasir were martyred. Earlier on September 7, in such operation had killed a high profile terrorist Wasim Zakria and five other militants in Mirali and 10 were arrested. Wasim Zakria had masterminded 30 terrorist attacks since September, 2019. He was also involved in target killing of senior civil servant Zubaidullah Dawar on the first day of Eidul Fitar.

 Keeping in view the fencing along Pak-Afghan border and its strict management, the theory of presence of militants’ sleeper cells will gain currency, to the activation of which the Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Quershi had made a categorical reference. He said that India may activate militants’ sleeper cells in Pakistan to divert attention from Ladkh debacle and situation in occupied Kashmir. A well-coordinated combing operation shall be needed to wipe out these cells.

The new wave of terrorism necessitates implementation of National Action Plan in letter and spirit. Notwithstanding their beautifully worded occasional statements in support of this plan, the political leadership has shown reluctance to give ownership to it, putting implementation of certain very important points on the backburner.

No legislation has been done by the parliament to reform criminal justice system.  Speaking at a national conference on “Expeditious Justice Initiative: Roadmap to Time-bound Criminal Trial Regime at Federal Judicial services Academy on April 14, 2019, Former Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had regretted that parliament did not accord priority to justice system, sarcastically adding since they (legislators) had bigger things to attend. Former CJP had told the conference that Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan had submitted about 70 reports to parliament and law ministry for attending different part of the law, which need amendments or substitutions of different provisions. But unfortunately none of the reports had so far been taken up by the parliament. Sensitizing the executive and legislative braches of the state, former Chief Justice of Pakistan had made it clear that judiciary is performing well its part of the responsibility. And the executive and legislature to take interest in justice system so that the entire system could be reformed and make it start delivering.

The counterterrorism watchdog, National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), under which joint intelligence directorate was conceived to be formed, has not been made fully functional. It is no longer a secret that NACTA is not getting a fair deal in budgetary allocations. It is for the government and opposition to join hands for implementing the remaining points of National Action Plan and formulate inland security policy.

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Amendments in CPC

Speaking at full court reference Chief Justice Lahore High Court Muhammad Qasim Khan said that implementation of the amendments in Civil Procedure Cod (CPC) will facilitate speedy decisions and help avoid unnecessary delays and adjournments of under trial cases. The full court approved the proposal to implement the amendments with effect from November 1, 2020.

The National Assembly Standing Committee on Law and Justice had cleared the CPC Amendment Bill, 2019 on August 22 last year. The proposed amendments included reduction of average time frame for a law suit from 30-40 years to less than a couple of years; abolition of second round of litigation by treating the Supreme Court order in the first round as final; and conducting simultaneous proceedings of litigation by two civil judges, one for stay matters and other trial proceeding of a case. The stay proceedings would lapse automatically on the completion of trial proceedings.

The amendments in CPC provide the right of appeal to a plaintiff against order of civil judge to a single bench of High Court, instead filing appeal in Session Court. It does not allow intra-court appeal in High Court and the plaintiff will approach Supreme Court for appeal against the order of High Court.

The federal and provincial legislatures have concurrent powers for approving amendments in the CPC. However, legal fraternity in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa had rejected the amendments in this code when it was passed by the provincial legislature and went on strike. The provincial government had to issue a suspension ordinance, which was also left to be lapsed. Punjab Assembly had not passed the amendments in CPC. In the opinion of legal fraternity, of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa it will overburden the High Court with cases of civil nature. Moreover, they objected to the new procedure of appointing commission for recording evidence outside the court premises as it will put extra financial burden on the plaintiff. Likewise, simultaneous proceedings of stay and trial matters of case will also add to his financial burden. They suggest that within the ambit of existing CPC, bench a bar can ensure speedy and inexpensive justice, provided the exemption privileges available to government departments are done away with.

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Intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha

First round of peace talks has opened between the officials of Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Foreign Minister of Qatar attended the opening ceremony in person, while Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Memood Qureshi and officials from several other countries and OIC attended it virtually. Bye and large an atmosphere of desire for peace was visible.

Addressing the opening ceremony of Afghan peace talks, US Secretary of state Michael Pompeo said that at last Afghan have chosen to sit together and tread the path of peace to chart a new course for their country. On this occasion Foreign Minister of Qatar was more vivid in his remarks about intra-Afghan dialogue and reminded lesson of history that long military conflicts had never produced the intended solutions. He emphasied that stakeholder of the Afghan conflict should forget the bitterness of the past and think about future. Foreign Minister of Qatar expressed the hope that the talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban will succeed, enabling the people of their country to achieve a sustainable peace.

Head of the Afghan High Commission for National Reconciliation, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, while thanking the Taliban for engaging in intra-Afghan dialogue, articulated his desire for peace and stability of Afghanistan.

Pakistan on its part, particularly under the present leadership, has performed a positive and supportive diplomatic role for bringing Afghan political groups to the negotiation table. In his address via video link to the opening round on the occasion of Doha peace talks, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reiterated Pakistan’s commitment towards a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and appreciated the efforts that have been made for starting the intra-Afghan peace talks and wished that it will produce a positive outcome to bring durable peace to the war torn country. He cautioned against repeating the mistakes made in the past, a reference to fratricidal war between the Mujahideen groups after the withdrawal of Soviet troops under Geneva Accord of 1989 and subsequent fall of President Najeebullah government in Kabul. The foreign Minister said that a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan will bring new opportunities and open numerous vistas for cooperation and connectivity in the region and beyond. He urged the international community to lend support to Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process, while respecting the consensus that emerges from intra-Afghan negotiations.

Meanwhile President Trump Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalzad during telephonic interaction with journalists made it clear that decision on Doha peace talks will be made after US elections in November. However, he acknowledged that the peace talks are Afghan owned and Afghan led and expressed optimism about the dialogue being held between the Taliban and Official of Kabul government but hinted to wait for the US elections results regarding discussion on further drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan. 

With regards to the spoilers of Afghan peace process, Zalmay Khalilzad said, “Daesh has been responsible for quite a lot of violence in Afghanistan as it does not want peace process go forward.” This sort of point of view about Daesh Khorasan is vague as leaders of countries that have common borders with Afghanistan and Russia do not subscribe to this simple accusative theory. In his opening remarks at Afghanistan Peace Conference held in Moscow on November 9, 2018, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had emphasised the threat posed by Daesh in Afghanistan, which relies on foreign sponsors in a bid to “turn Afghanistan into a springboard for its expansion in central Asia.” Let us hope that US will design and lead Syria-Iraq style military operation against Daesh in Afghanistan, before further drawdown of its troops after the success of intra-Afghan negotiations and inclusive political settlement.

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Pilots’ fake licenses

At last truth about the Pakistan Airline (PIA) dubious licenses is coming to light. Representatives of Pakistan Airline Pilots’ Association (PALPA) told the Sub Committee of Senate Standing Committee on Civil Aviation that licenses of pilots of PK 661, which crashed near Hawelian on way from Chittral to Islamabad, were not genuine. It was further revealed to the Sub Committee that in 2018 scrutiny of PIA pilots’ examination record maintained by the Civil Aviation Authority had exposed discrepancies between the result sheets generated by the software and the attendance sheets of the candidates on the days of examinations. The Committee asked for the forensic report in the matter.

The opposition had resorted to cutting political angles when Civil Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan made a statement in the National assembly that licenses of 262 have been found fake. Former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbassi, who had served Chairman PIA, insisted in an interview on a private TV Channel that pilots’ examinations are conducted by Civil Aviation Authority in absolute transparent manner. Showing resentment over the statement of Aviation Minister, former Prime Minister argued that it will bring a misnomer to the image of the country and National Airline.

The matter of pilots with ingenuine flying licenses posed a grave risk to human lives during air travel. The government had taken right decision to make the names of public of pilots holding fake licenses by uploading on the website of Civil Aviation Authority and informing flying clubs accordingly. The issue was not that simple and straight forward as Shahid Khaqan Abbassi had portrayed, because International Air Transport Association (IATA) had then taken a notice of it. It was on the recommendation of (IATA) that the United States and European Union countries had banned PIA flights in their skies during the tenure of last PML-N government. The main reason cited was the large number of faulty and outmoded aircrafts in the fleet of the National Air Line. The irregularity of inducting pilots of counterfeit licenses is unlawful and can be used as pretext for banning the flight of national airline and other Pakistani airlines on international routes.

PIA was kept in the dilapidated state by the previous government to pave the way for its privitisation at throw away price, for which air traffic was declared as core function, loans, worn out airplanes and other liabilities as non-core function of the airline. The air traffic was selected for privitisation. Abandoning the induction of new aircraft in the fleet of PIA, appointments on political basis and adoption of open skies policy resulted in huge losses of the national carrier in addition to overburdening it with loans of over Rs. 200 billion. Hopefully, the submission of forensic report, rightsizing measures being taken for purging the political appointees and induction of brand new airplanes will help clear the accumulated mess in PIA.

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Same old rant

In the 17th meeting of US-India Counterterrorism Joint Working Group held in Washington DC, once again bogey of cross border terrorism has been raised, claiming that certain proscribed militant groups in Pakistan are still active. A senior Pakistani official, while talking to this daily newspaper, rejected the allegations made by the US, which are nothing but a cliché. The official substantiated the clear and firm policy of the present government to not allow the soil the country to be used for cross border terrorism. He said that it seems the US administration is not appreciating and acknowledging the efforts and sacrifices made by Pakistan in sustained counterterrorism operation. “Getting rid of any and every terrorist group is a part of National Action Plan,” he added. The official expressed concern over the US oblivious attitude towards the state sponsored terrorism by India in the occupied Kashmir.

National Action Plan of twenty points is being implemented in letter and spirit. Majority of important points that pertain to counterterrorism have already been implemented. The local militant outfits which have been mentioned by the US have already been banned; their network smashed, and properties whatsoever have been taken over by the government. Chances of re-emergence of proscribed organisations under new names have been eliminated. The strict prudential regulations and strong administrative actions have choked the sources of finances to terrorist organisations. The access of proscribed organisations to social media outlets is blocked. A policy of zero tolerance against these organisations has been enforced. Seminaries Reforms are underway. Counterterrorism departments under provincial governments are fully functional. Likewise, under the federal government National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA) is operational.

The critique of senior government official is justified, stating that the US administration has shut their eyes to the acts of terrorism by India in the occupied Kashmir. The Kashmiri Muslims are under siege since August 5 last year and extrajudicial killings of their youth are going on. The demography of Kashmir valley is being changed with new domicile policy and establishing settlements of Hindus there.

The United States is not taking cognizance of the bare fact that India is using the soil of Afghanistan for sponsoring terrorists’ attacks in Pakistan. The surge in militancy in the tribal districts of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, Baluchistan, and attack on Pakistan Stock Exchange building in Karachi bear testimony to it. The same old rant to bash Pakistan serves no purpose, if the US is really serious about eradicating the menace of terrorism from this region.

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Water share of federating units

While chairing the meeting of National Assembly Standing Committee on Water Resources, Khalid Hussain Magsi took notice complaints of small provinces of being deprived of their due share of water from the Indus Water System. Indus Water System Authority was criticised for its inability to amicably resolve water disputes among the federating units. The issue was recommended for deliberation and decision in the next meeting of Council of Common Interest.

Although the share of provinces from the Indus Water System had been determined in the Water Apportionment Accord of 1991, yet government of Sindh has frequently complained about getting less water against its decided share. The parliamentarian of the province had inspected different spots upstream River Indus in Punjab in 2017 during Kharif season to ascertain about the pilfering points, which they did not find.

It is the depleting of storage level in Tarbella dam and not building other mega storage facility downstream of this dam on the River Indus, which leads to water shortages, particularly in Kharif season. It is beyond comprehension as to why political leaders of Sindh and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa are opposing the construction of Kalabagh dam, for which they do not tell any plausible technical explanation. Water experts are unanimously of the view that lack of big storage dams results in wasting water resources of $10-20 billion every year. But who cared in the past, even knowing that water storage capacity in the reservoirs of TArbella and Mangla can hardly cater for 36 days. Permanent solution of resolving water disputes lie in the construction big storage dams.

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Central Asia-South Asia connectivity

Realising in time the shift in center of gravity of global economy from the west to the east, Uzbekistan is taking a lead role to connect Central Asia with South Asia.  Broad parameters of this pragmatic plan were spelt out by Uzbekistan Ambassador to the United States and Canada Javlon Vakhdov in an interview with this daily. The Uzbek government has decided to construct rail-road link to Peshawar through Mazar-e Sharif and Kabul in Afghanistan to provide all weather access to Central Asian States to the sea ports of Gawadar and Karachi for trade with India, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. It merits mention that Afghan Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar, in his recent speech at the United States Institute of Peace, had euologised his country’s friendly relations with Uzbekistan based on shared history, cultural and trade linkages. On the of day of Ambassador Vakhadov interview , Hanif Atmar was arriving to Tashkent with a delegation comprising representatives of Afghan Ministry of trade and Industry and Central Bank.

If the new economic block, conceived by Uzbekistan, does materialise then Pakistan will occupy a central position in the regional economic integration by virtue of its strategic geographical location, from which it has not hitherto derived a quid pro quo. In this regard the Uzbek Ambassador alluded to point of view of his country’s Foreign Minister Abdula Aziz Kamilov about the strategic importance of South Asia, acknowledging Pakistan’s key role in the boosting bilateral and multilateral trade. The assessment of Ambassador Vakhdov is correct that once Uzbekistan is connected to Peshawar and Gawadrr then thousands of people will be benefited from it in the shape of jobs, business, trade, education and transport facilities.

However, the long cherished dream of Central Asia-South Asia economic integration will come true only when peace returns to the war torn Afghanistan, for which countries of the region have pinned their hope  on intra-Afghan dialogue to reach an inclusive political settlement acceptable to all political groups in Afghanistan. In the interview Ambassador Vakhdov alluded to a telling sentence of President Shavkat Mirzyoyev vision of Afghan Policy, which reveals that peace and security in Afghanistan is not only vital for the stability and prosperity of Central Asia but also for South Asia.

The utility of regional economic integration has increased in the prevailing free trade era. The free flow of goods, services and transfer of technology give boost to output and employment and eventually bring prosperity to the people of member states. ASEAN economic bloc and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation provide role models.

Since the independence of Central Asian States 1991, forging closer trade and cultural relations with these Islamic countries has been a cherished dream for the people from all walks of life in Pakistan. Renowned economists and trade leaders had always given valuable input to government for establishing trade relations with Central Asian States and subsequently expanding them. In the first PML-N government, Economic Affairs Minister Sardar Asif Ahmad Ali arranged seminars in the capital cities of all four provinces on the importance of economic integration with Central Asia and had taken trade delegations there, but tangible results did not follow.

 Perhaps the present government is also not doing the necessary homework to enable Pakistan to reap the fruits when Central Asia-South Asia integration comes into being. The roads infrastructure of the country is excellent. Railway communication is being upgraded by launching ML-1 project. On the contrary, fiscal and energy policies are highly regressive, which may confine Pakistan’s role to mere transit of regional trade. The developed countries of South Asia had remained reluctant to outsource their industries to it and will remain so in future as well, if favourable economic environment is not created by taking pragmatic policy decisions, not hollow rhetoric.