ISLAMABAD: The government’s foreign policy came under fire in the National Assembly on Wednesday as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, led by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, flayed the prime minister and the foreign ministry for failing to come up with a concrete stance on the Rohingya tragedy and ‘Free Balochistan’ propaganda, among a host of other issues.
Legislators were also not satisfied with the wording of a resolution — even though it was adopted unanimously — condemning the ongoing “genocide” of Muslims in Myanmar and calling for an international investigation of crimes against the Rohingya community, and demanded that the resolution be “beefed up with more tangible measures”.
The former interior minister first took on his party’s administration, criticising the prime minister and the Foreign Office for not reacting strongly to the US drone strike in Kurram tribal region on Sept 15.
NA passes resolution on Rohingya killings; minister warns against giving too much importance to Baloch separatists
“The very next day, PM Abbasi met the US ambassador for what we were told was ‘a courtesy call’. We should have been expressing our displeasure, not extending courtesy,” he said, adding that he would’ve taken the matter up with the PM himself, had he been in the country.
Lashing out at the Foreign Office for its failure to pre-empt what he termed an “anti-Pakistan” resolution at the BRICS meeting in China, he asked: “What are our diplomats good for? Diplomacy isn’t conducted meeting-to-meeting; it’s a 24-hour cycle. Why didn’t they inform the government about this in time?”
He recalled that a similar resolution moved at the previous BRICS summit in India had failed, but had been unanimously approved at the subsequent meeting, held in a friendly country. “These meetings don’t happen overnight. China is a friendly country that shares information with us,” he said, questioning the competence of the foreign ministry.
Against the backdrop of Pakistan being asked to “do more” by Western powers, he recalled UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s statement acknowledging Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism, and suggested that parliament write a letter thanking him for his candour.
Terming the plight of the Rohingya “a human tragedy”, the former minister said: “It is ethnic cleansing of the worst kind in which the state, army and government of Burma is involved, but the world remains silent.”
The former minister urged the government to take the lead in projecting the Rohingya cause globally. “A resolution won’t help. The government should open a fund to help the Rohingya. Start from us, the MNAs will donate salary and aid,” he said.
He also called for a parliamentary delegation to visit the refugee camps in Bangladesh, saying that if they were not allowed to go, Dhaka would stand exposed.
“How can we complain of the silence of the global champions of human rights when even Muslim organisations are mute,” he said, terming the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) “redundant”.
“Whether the OIC meets or not, we should demand a special summit of OIC ministers. If it can’t be bothered to do something about such a grave matter, the OIC should be disbanded,” he said.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Fehmida Mirza suggested that parliament should write to all members of the International Parliamentary Union for support on the issue, and supported Chaudhry Nisar’s stance, saying that it was time for the redundant OIC to be jolted out of its reverie.
However, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MNA Asad Umar called for beefing up the resolution with more concrete steps. “Look at how the people of Pakistan appreciated President Erdogan for visiting the refugee camps in Bangladesh,” he said, calling on the government to send its own delegation.
He also accused Bangladeshi PM Hasina Wajid of closing borders to Rohingya refugees and asked parliament to demand that Dhaka reopen its border.
Maulana Ameer Zaman of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) likened the OIC to a patient in the intensive care unit and called for its disbanding.
He said that his party colleague, Senator Talha Mehmood, had visited the Bangladesh-Myanmar border and witnessed first-hand the cruelties perpetrated against Muslims. “He cries whenever he speaks of the horrors he saw,” Maulana Zaman recalled.
However, PPP’s Nafisa Shah and PML-N’s Tahir Iqbal took a slightly different line, advocating that Rohingya refugees be kept at arm’s length.
In a detailed speech, Ms Shah provided context for the Rohingya issue and recalled that they were originally residents of modern-day Bangladesh who had been pushed into Burma by British colonialists to serve as labour.
She demanded that Rohingya refugees in Pakistan be recognised as refugees “because they should eventually return to Burma”.
Meanwhile, the venerable PML-N lawmaker from Chakwal suggested extending monetary support to refugees through Bangladesh, rather than direct involvement in the conflict.
“You speak of the Burmese Rohingya, what of the Pakistani Rohingya in Fata?” asked Shahabuddin Khan, a PML-N lawmaker from Fata.
“What is difference between the two places? People are having their heads chopped off, getting blown up, and being forced out of their homes in both places,” he asked, trying to shame the house into settling the much-delayed question of Fata’s merger.
Propaganda against Balochistan
Speaking on a calling attention notice, Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch told the house that Baloch separatists took advantage of the liberal laws of Switzerland to display banners and posters and hold protests in favour of their demands.
“This is in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and the international community is bound to curtail the activities of terrorist groups,” he said, adding that while the matter had been taken up with the Swiss permanent representative, the government was still awaiting a response from the authorities.
Dispelling the impression that this was a popular movement, either in Geneva or in Balochistan, Mr Baloch warned against giving Baloch separatists too much importance. “If we do that, it will give the impression that they are right; that this is a national problem. There was a time a couple of years ago when these groups were active in Balochistan, but the situation has changed now.”
PML-N MNA Khalid Hussain Magsi, however, pointed out that there was a need to address the circumstances that arose in Balochistan in the aftermath of such incidents. “We need to readdress our local situation,” he said, prompting Mr Baloch to observe that the government understood the importance of addressing the causes of unrest in the province.
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2017