ISLAMABAD: Terming the government’s act of sealing the border with Afghanistan as “unwise and illogical”, members belonging to the opposition as well as the ruling coalition on Tuesday called for revisiting the country’s foreign policy and appointment of a full-time foreign minister.
Taking part in a debate on the “foreign policy of the government” on a motion moved by Shahida Rehmani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the National Assembly, the opposition members said that closing the border with Afghanistan was not a solution to the menace of terrorism.
Earlier, the lower house of the parliament witnessed introduction of 11 private members’ bills, mostly tabled by women members and related to the protection of child rights and for prevention of child labour.
Minister defends move, saying in NA: ‘What else can we do? We cannot go there and have war.’
Participating in the debate, almost all the opposition members criticised the government for not appointing a full-time foreign minister and termed it a major reason for the failure of the country’s foreign policy.
Interestingly, the debate on the foreign policy was opened by the chief whip of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Dr Shireen Mazari, instead of the mover. As soon as the PPP member moved the motion for debate, Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi gave the floor to an already agitating Dr Mazari who had been seeking permission of the chair to speak on a point of order on the issue of the closure of the border with Afghanistan.
“Will the closure of the border with Afghanistan eradicate terrorism from the country?” she asked, adding the terrorists didn’t enter Pakistan after getting valid visas. Instead, she said, they used informal routes for their movement.
Referring to the statement of Defence Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif regarding India’s role in terrorism in Pakistan, she said the government should also close the country’s border with India, which was constantly violating the ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir.
“If India is doing terrorism in our country, then close the Wagah border (with India)?” she asked.
The PTI leader said on one hand the country’s defence minister was stating that India was conniving with Afghanistan to carry out terrorism in Pakistan and on the other Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif wanted to do trade with India.
Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan had been sealed in the aftermath of a suicide bombing at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sindh last month after the military authorities claimed the attacks were carried out by the militants operating from safe havens in Afghanistan.
She demanded that the prime minister, who holds the portfolio of the foreign minister, should come to the house and explain his government’s foreign policy.
PPP’s Shahida Rehmani said Pakistan was facing international isolation due to the absence of a foreign minister.
“We don’t have a foreign minister, but do we have a foreign policy?” said Naeema Kishwar, whose party Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) is a part of the federal government.
“How is Pakistan carrying out strategic action inside Afghanistan when we had made a hue and cry over India’s strategic actions in our country?” she asked in her apparent reference to the recent media reports that Pakistan had attacked the terrorists’ camps across the border in Afghanistan.
Ms Kishwar called for the formulation of the foreign policy through parliament and asked the government to respect the “independence and sovereignty of Afghanistan”.
Independent MNA sitting on the opposition benches Jamshed Dasti also lashed out at the government for, what he called, its pro-US and pro-India policies.
The MNA from Muzaffargarh, who is known for making controversial statements, surprisingly rejected the notion that Pakistan should not interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.
“We should interfere in Afghanistan so that we can have a supportive government there. Our military’s policy on Afghanistan is correct,” he went on saying.
Others who took part in the debate included Sheikh Salahuddin of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Ayesha Gulali of the PTI and Sahibzada Tariqullah of the Jamaat-i-Islami.
Winding up the debate, Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron) retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch said that unfortunately Pakistan never had cordial relations with Afghanistan since the country’s inception in 1947 when Kabul opposed Pakistan’s inclusion in the United Nations and later sided with India in its wars with Pakistan The minister said the government had been making efforts to improve the relationship with Afghanistan and even invited the Afghan president for a briefing at the army GHQ.
Defending the government’s decision to seal the Pak-Afghan border, the minister said they could not allow India and Afghanistan to continue to destabilise Pakistan through terrorism. He said Pakistan had proof of involvement of intelligence agencies of India and Afghanistan in the terror activities in Pakistan.
Mr Baloch said the purpose of closing the border was to put pressure on the Afghan government to take action against terrorists, adding: “What else can we do? We cannot go there and have a war”.
“We have closed the border to ensure our security,” he declared.
“We are ready to provide Afghanistan with all the required assistance, but how many bodies can we bury?” he said.
“If Afghanistan wants to establish relationships with us on the dictation of India, we will never let it happen,” he stated in categorical terms. He, however, said that the Afghan authorities had established contacts with Islamabad and expressed the hope that the situation would soon improve.
The minister rejected the opposition’s demand for the appointment of a full-time foreign minister and said that Sartaj Aziz was functioning as the foreign minister in an efficient manner. He said the Constitution allowed appointment of advisers with the status of the foreign minister.
Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2017