ISLAMABAD: Prime Minis­ter Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday accepted his Indian counterpart’s challenge to launch a joint struggle against rampant poverty and rising unemployment in the region and abandon the warmongering path that India currently seems to be set on.

Addressing a joint sitting of both houses of parliament, convened specifically to discuss the crisis in Kashmir and rising tensions along the Line of Control (LoC), the prime minister said: “If [India] really wants to compete with us in poverty alleviation, ending unemployment or ensuring development, these goals cannot be achieved by playing with blood, fire and brimstone.”

Even though he did not mention the Indian prime minister in his speech, the prime minister’s remarks seemed to be aimed at Narendra Modi, who recently threw down the gauntlet in a speech in Kerala, saying that New Delhi was ready to fight Pakistan in terms of eliminating poverty, unemployment and illiteracy.

•PPP, JUI-F, JI question ‘diplomatic failures’ •Absent PTI goes unmentioned •Bilawal brings up Panamagate outside the house

“If you really want to revolutionise the lives of the people of the subcontinent, then remove the contradictions between your words and your actions. Unar­med protesters can be blinded, but you cannot avert the gaze of history — or the rest of humanity — from your crimes.”

Invoking the imagery of war, the prime minister reminded PM Modi that “fields sown with mines cannot yield flowers of prosperity and the standard of welfare can never fly on lands trampled by tanks and artillery.”

The rest of his remarks, however, were more or less similar to his recent speech at the United Nations General Assembly, as well as his address at a multiparty conference on Kashmir earlier this week.

He claimed that his government had repeatedly raised its voice for granting the people of Kashmir the right to self-determination at every regional and international forum.

“We are against war, we want lasting peace in the region; we want to discuss all issues, including Kashmir, and solve them through meaningful and comprehensive dialogue,” he said.

But alongside the offer for talks, PM Sharif was quick to stress that the country’s armed forces were well prepared to respond to any aggression and that “our peace overtures shoul­dn’t be considered a weakness”.

Thanking the political leadership assembled in parliament for their presence at Monday’s multi-party conference, he hoped that the joint sitting would convey a collective national stand on the issue of Kashmir. “My government will be waiting for your guidance on all key national issues,” he concluded.

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah took potshots at the government for not adopting aggressive diplomacy on the Kashmir issue.

He exhorted PM Sharif to take a leaf out of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto’s book on India, recalling how both leaders had kept Pakistan from becoming internationally isolated.

He recalled Zulfikar’s whirlwind tour of around 40 Muslim countries that kept Pakistan from being cornered following the secession of Bangladesh, and harked back to Benazir’s statesmanship in sending Farooq Leghari in her place to the 1995 Saarc summit, which was held at a time of spiralling Indo-Pak tensions.

Mr Shah, who usually has something or the other to quote from in every speech, read excer­pts from Jawaharlal Nehru’s correspondence with the Pakistani prime minister on Oct 27, 1947, where he said that Kashmir’s fortunes would be decided by the people of the Valley.

Referring to another speech delivered by Mr Nehru on All-India Radio on Nov 2, 1947 where the Indian leader had admitted that Kashmiris should be granted the right to self-determination, Mr Shah questioned why the Foreign Office did not use this historic evidence to build its case at the international level.

But then he seemed to answer his own question when he deconstructed the uneasy working relationship between Sartaj Aziz and Tariq Fatemi — the two men in charge of the Foreign Office.

“One man for [parliament] and one for [outside],” was his pithy summation of each adviser’s role, before he turned around and noticed that Mr Aziz was not even present.

Notwithstanding his recent controversial remarks, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazalur Rehman delivered a well-articulated speech, covering various facets of Pakistan’s foreign relations and calling on both India and Pakistan to review their relations with neighbouring countries as well.

He overtly delivered the threat of nuclear war, saying that even the slightest misstep between the two atomic powers could have grave repercussions for the entire world.

He also harkened to a rising anti-Muslim sentiment that was gradually building the world over, referring to the ascendancy of right-wing Modi in India and the decidedly bigoted candidacy of Donald Trump for the US presidency.

Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq criticized the government for its diplomatic failures, noting that even Saudi Arabia had conferred its highest civil award on Modi, despite his known role in the Gujarat riots.

The elephant in the room was definitely the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which had announced its decision to boycott parliament on the eve of the joint sitting. However, it was surprising that not one speaker commented on the party’s decision to boycott the sitting.Since there was no PTI, there was obviously no mention of the Panamagate scandal inside the house.

Also in attendance was PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who got a rousing welcome from both sides of the aisle when the speaker introduced him at the outset of the session. Indeed, his presence gave PPP members more impetus to show their strength in the combined house, shouting slogans and banging their desks every time Khurshid Shah paused for applause.

But speaking outside Parliament House, Mr Bhutto-Zardari urged the government to accept the opposition’s bill on the Panama Papers inquiry.

“Panama is a distraction; we have to prove to the world and the people of Pakistan that our democracy is capable of holding the corrupt to account,” he concluded.

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2016



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