It may sound like a novel idea to some, but the fact remains that instead of appointing a full time foreign minister, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has chosen around two dozen parliamentarians to wage a diplomatic campaign on Kashmir.
This select group of parliamentarians will be visiting various international capitals to highlight Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir, which has recently witnessed a fresh youth uprising against the occupying Indian forces.
Although the prime minister holds the foreign affairs portfolio himself and has an adviser and a special assistant to help him, he thought it appropriate to engage lawmakers for a forceful diplomatic push among the comity of nations.
While there is no denying the fact that Kashmiris need Pakistan’s help at all possible forums, what difference can these legislators-cum-special envoys really make to the Kashmiri cause in current times.
After all, for effective diplomacy, one needs to be proficient in how to pursue others. Around the world, countries deploy their best and brightest minds to diplomatic assignments.
So the first question that arises is: what criteria did the prime minister use to select these parliamentarians for this highly-specialised job?
It may be a coincidence, but a major chunk of these special envoys belong to the southern districts of Punjab.
Then there are those who joined the PML-N after winning elections as independent candidates, hoping they will fare better on the treasury benches. But after more than three years in power, they still remain neglected.
A third category is those who had previously served the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), but later on joined the PML-N to ensure their political survival.
A common perception doing the rounds in political circles is that these parliamentarians have been picked because the government wants to appease them.
Indeed, on these trips, all legislators will be accorded special protocol by the country’s foreign missions and their respective hosts, as well as getting widespread media coverage both at home and abroad.
Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtyar of NA-194 (Rahim Yar Khan) and Alamdad Laleka of NA-189 (Bahawalnagar), have been chosen by the prime minister to visit China. The two young legislators will be charged with impressing the importance of the Kashmir issue upon the Chinese leadership.
A former minister of state for foreign affairs in the Musharraf years, Mr Bakhtyar was previously associated with the PML-Q. However, he won the 2013 election as an independent candidate and later joined the PML-N.
Mr Laleka also has ties to the PML-Q, being a relative of former minister Abdus Sattar Laleka of Bahawalnagar.
Abdul Rehman Khan Kanju, another first-time MNA from NA-155 (Lodhran) who has been tasked with visiting South Africa, also joined the PML-N’s ranks after winning the elections as an independent candidate.
Raza Hayat Harraj of NA-156 (Khanewal) is another independent-turned-treasury member. He was also one of those who had not been rewarded for choosing the PML-N, and will now be visiting the Russian Federation.
Awais Ahmad Khan Leghari, the former PML-Q IT minister, comes from NA-173 (D.G. Khan). He too had high hopes after quitting the PTI and joining the PML-N just before last general elections, but was only able to secure chairmanship of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs. He will be now be visiting the United Nations’ offices in Geneva to highlight Indian atrocities against helpless Kashmiris.
Former PML-Q religious affairs minister Ijazul Haq, who won the election from NA-191 (Bahawalnagar) as head of the PML-Zia, has also been part of the treasury benches, but to no avail. He will accompany young Uzair Malik NA-69 (Khushab) on a trip to Brussels. The latter is the son of former PML-Q MNA Sumaira Malik.
Retired Maj Tahir Iqbal from Chakwal, another former PML-Q cabinet minister, has been chosen for Kashmir diplomacy in Saudi Arabia.
Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, who continues to be part of the PML-Q contingent in the Senate, will be visiting the all-important destination, Washington, DC. Although the senator denies it, but some PML-Q insiders said they wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to join Nawaz Sharif, whom he served as information minister during his second term as prime minister.
There are others too, mostly those who have been criticising their own party on the floor of the house.
Qaiser Ahmad Sheikh of NA-68 (Jhang), who heads the National Assembly Standing Committee on Finance is a good example. During the last budget session, he uncharacteristically needled his own government for not introducing much-needed reforms in the country.
He and newly-elected PML-N senator, retired Lt-Gen Abdul Qayyum will travel to the UK to highlight the plight of Kashmiris at Downing Street.
Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2016