ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will preside over a meeting on Monday of the heads of parliamentary parties with a one-point agenda of sending a clear message to the outside world following ongoing Indian aggression along the Line of Control (LoC) and Indian atrocities in held Kashmir.

A senior PM Office official told Dawn that invitations had been extended to the heads of all parties in the two houses of parliament without discrimination. There is one exception, however, which according to the official has always been made at all such gatherings during the term of the current government; Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has not been invited.

Sheikh Rashid is the sole member of his Awami Muslim League in the National Assembly. But he is not alone. For example, Ijazul Haq of Pakistan Muslim League-Zia is the only member of his party sitting in the house, but he is always invited to Prime Minister Office on such occasions.

A similar meeting was convened by the prime minister in January this year to build consensus over the vital China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The PM Office official said that like the CPEC sitting, a joint communiqué will be issued after the meeting bearing the signatures of all those in attendance.

A member of the federal cabinet told Dawn that for the government, the meeting was meant exclusively to let the entire world know that Pakistan stood united against Indian warmongering and wanted to highlight the plight of the people of Kashmir following the killing of Kashmiri freedom fighter Burhan Wani.

To a query, the minister said that as far as the Panama Papers issue was concerned, parties such as the PTI and PPP were already using whatever forum suited them to gain political mileage. “I don’t think leaders from opposition parties will try anything that may spoil the purpose of the meeting.”

The minister said that the government would welcome suggestions from other parties for more effective diplomacy on the issue of Kashmir.

Talking to Dawn, PPP chief spokesperson Qamar Zaman Kaira said it had been his party’s suggestion to hold a multiparty conference on Kashmir to forge a united national response at this critical juncture, when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was busy trying to isolate Pakistan at all international and regional forums.

“Naturally, the agenda of this meeting should be the ongoing tensions at the LoC and the potential response from Pakistan, particularly in the background of the Uri incident and Indian claims that it had carried out surgical strikes on alleged terrorist hideouts inside Pakistan,” the PPP information secretary.

But at the same time, Mr Kaira said this would all depend on how the prime minister conducted proceedings.

Syed Khurshid Shah and Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan will participate as leaders of the opposition in the National Assembly and Senate, respectively, while a separate party delegation will be headed by PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. “At this moment, I cannot say with certainty who else from the party will be joining Mr Bhutto, besides two leaders of the opposition.”

Prime Minister Sharif has already spoken to former president and PPP co-chairperson Asif Zardari over the phone as part of his efforts to develop a national response to Indian aggression.

When asked, PTI parliamentary leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that despite having lots of reservations against the prime minister following the disclosure of the Panama Papers, his party had decided to attend the meeting.

“Yes, the purpose of the meeting should be forging a national response following recent developments over the LoC and inside occupied Kashmir. This is why the PTI chairman has decided to take part,” said Mr Qureshi.

However, in the same breath, he said that by not inviting Sheikh Rashid to the gathering, the government had sent the wrong signals. “Like many others, Mr Rashid also is parliamentary leader of his party and should have been invited by the prime minister,” he said.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2016

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