ISLAMABAD: Even as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is busy highlighting the plight of the Kashmiri people at the international level, key government ally Maulana Fazlur Rehman surprised the National Assembly on Thursday when he said that the government was meting out similar treatment to its own people, living in the tribal areas.

On the second day of discussion on the findings and recommendations of the Committee on Fata Reforms, the chief of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) said: “I don’t see any difference between the people of India-occupied Kashmir and our tribal areas as far as the curbing of their rights is concerned.”

For some reason, he said, the suffering of the people of Fata was not being highlighted as compared to the media coverage of the Kashmir issue.

He did not stop there. Criticising the ongoing military operation in Fata, he said it seemed as if the action actually targeted peaceful tribesmen rather than the Taliban, since the latter continued to rule the roost with a monthly income of Rs1.5 billion, which they extorted from government agencies and other coercive measures.

Mr Rehman claimed that every second shopkeeper in Peshawar was receiving threatening messages from extremists, warning of dire consequences if they failed to pay ‘protection money’.

In the cleric’s words, the kind of disgrace and humiliation that had been meted out to the people of Fata as a result of the ongoing military operation was unrivalled in recent history.

“First, they were dislocated in the name of the country’s greater national security; now their identities are being questioned and they are being forced to cross the Durand Line,” said the JUI-F leader who has the distinction of being part of the last three successive governments, under Gen Pervez Musharraf, Asif Zardari and now Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Adopting an acerbic tone against the government of which he has been an integral part from day one, Fazlur Rehman drew parallels between the Line of Control (LoC) and the Durand Line, saying: “The two lines are undefined international borders; just as we have claims across the LoC, those living on the other side of the Durand Line have their own views. This is why the Fata region needs careful handling.”

He claimed that the committee’s report on Fata reforms was far removed from ground realities and termed it a mere “show-piece” and wordy account. “Reports prepared sitting inside the Governor House had no weight,” he said.

Disapproving its findings and recommendations, Mr Rehman asked how people sitting in Islamabad could recommend the merging of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Urging both the federal and KP governments not to impose their own solutions on the tribal region, the JUI-F chief called for allowing the people of Fata to decide their future.

Although he proposed a referendum for the people of Fata to decide their future, he was of the view that a separate province could better serve their rights within the federation.

It was surprising to see Fazlur Rehman — who is also chairman of the Special Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir — ignoring the rising tensions between India and Pakistan in his speech.

Towards the end of his remarks, the burly JUI-F leader said he had predicted 15 years ago that India would encircle Pakistan through Afghanistan, adding that Pakistan could only counter India by fostering friendly ties with neighbouring countries.

Throughout the JUI-F chief’s speech, PkMAP leader Mehmood Khan Achakzai kept on thumping his desk and even verbally endorsed the former’s point of view. However, many on the treasury benches curled up in their seats, disapproving of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s assertions.

But it took Ghalib Khan, a PML-N MNA from Fata, to hit back at the JUI-F leader. Without naming him, the tribal lawmaker said that successive governments had ignored tribesmen and those in power only sought to benefit themselves and their parties.

Mr Khan wondered why and on whose behest the JUI-F leader spoke about controversial issues such as the Durand Line and requested the latter not to sabotage the government’s ongoing efforts for the betterment of Fata’s people.

Also on Thursday, MNAs and officials from the NA secretariat were briefed by PTI chief whip Dr Shireen Mazari on various dimensions of the Kashmir dispute. The talk was the first in a series of lectures where subject-matter experts from among MNAs will be invited to speak on their areas of specialisation.

A former faculty member at the Quaid-i-Azam University’s strategic studies department, Dr Mazari proposed various solutions to the intractable Kashmir conflict, drawing parallels between the conflicts in East Timor, Aland Island, Trieste, Andorra models and Kashmir. However, she suggested that the most viable model for the resolution of the Kashmir issue was the Good Friday Agreement, which had led to the cessation of hostilities in Northern Ireland.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2016

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