ISLAMABAD: After a two-day debate on Kashmir, the National Assembly during a thinly-attended sitting on Tuesday unanimously passed a traditional resolution, condemning atrocities being committed by the Indian forces in the occupied territory as members from both sides of the aisle continued political squabbling for a second consecutive day.

The lower house of parliament after suspending routine business had allocated two days for debate on the situation in India-held Kashmir ahead of the Kashmir Day, which is being observed nationwide on Wednesday.

The absence of the main leadership, including Prime Minister Imran Khan and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif, provided an opportunity to the backbenchers and rare speakers to mark their presence.

A couple of members even from the treasury benches pointed towards the empty front benches and complained about “lack of interest” by the lawmakers in the debate, while a few legislators declared on the floor of the house that it was after more than six months that they had got an opportunity to speak on the floor of the assembly.

Govt, opposition continue political squabbling in lower house of parliament amid complaints about members’ lack of interest

“The lack of interest within our ranks on the Kashmir issue is regrettable,” said Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan, citing “internal rifts” among themselves as the main reason for it. He also blamed the media for not giving importance to the issue and said journalists were highlighting local issues only.

On a number of occasions, Speaker Asad Qaiser asked the parliamentary leaders to approach the members to ensure their presence in the house, “at least at the time of the passage of the resolution”. It was perhaps due to the speaker’s directives that maximum number of members could be seen in the house when Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir Fakhar Imam read out the resolution.

The legislators also spoke about several other issues, including the role of National Accountability Bureau, price hike, coronavirus and the situation in Balochistan and the country’s tribal areas during the debate, forcing the speaker to intervene and bring them back to the main topic.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) legislator Nasrullah Dreshak said the empty chairs had exposed the “seriousness” on the part of the members who had ensured their presence in large numbers at the time of the passage of the services chiefs’ term extension bills.

Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) lawmaker Abdul Shakoor criticised the Monday speech of Minister for Kashmir Affairs Ali Amin Gandapur in which he had blamed the JUI-F for damaging the Kashmir cause by staging Azadi march in Islamabad in October last year. The JUI-F lawmaker said that at a time when the opposition was talking about unity, the minister was unnecessarily creating controversies.

Shahnaz Baloch of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) said they were discussing the situation in occupied Kashmir whereas they had failed to resolve the issues being faced by the people of Balochistan and the tribal areas.

Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari accused the opposition of ‘doing politics on Kashmir’.

Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry also hit out at the opposition and expressed his reservations over the Monday’s speech of PML-N lawmaker Khawaja Asif.

The minister said Pakistan never elected extremist parties, but unfortunately the extremists were ruling in the world’s biggest democracy.

PPP lawmaker Naz Baloch remarked that they could not liberate Kashmir through tweets.

The most hard-hitting speech of the day against the government came from PML-N’s Khurram Dastagir and he was responded in the same tone by Climate Change Minister Zartaj Gul. The two speeches were about to spoil the atmosphere when the speaker intelligently gave floor to Mr Imam to read out the resolution.

Mr Dastagir said Prime Minister Imran Khan on a number of occasions had warned that a war could break out in the region, but in Davos, he had stated that Pakistan could not fight. Similarly, he said, the prime minister had once stated about the “no first use” of nuclear weapons and hours later, the military through ISPR came out with a clarification that it was not their policy. He said the Indian act of annexing held Kashmir had destroyed the “most fundamental pillar of our foreign policy”.

Ms Gul said the opposition through its “speeches full of hatred” was sending a wrong message to the outside world. For the first time, she said, the military and the civilian leaderships were on the same page. For the first time Pakistan had an independent foreign policy, she claimed.

NA resolution

The NA resolution “demands that India immediately reverse and rescind its illegal actions of August 5 and October 31, 2019”. It asks India to allow international human rights and humanitarian organisations, parliamentarians of the countries affiliated with the UN and the international media to access occupied Kashmir so that they could be “able to assess and report the human rights situation there”. It calls upon the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to “immediately convene” a special summit on the Kashmir issue.

It welcomed the consultations of the UNSC held last month and lauded the role played by human rights organisations, statesmen and stateswomen, international media and the governments of China, Turkey, Malaysia and Iran.

Senate resolution backs Kashmiris

The Senate also adopted a resolution by assuring its support to the people of Kashmir in the struggle for their right to self-determination.

The resolution moved by Leader of the House Shibli Faraz “demands that Indian PM Modi and his RSS cohort who have unleashed a reign of terror on the unarmed and defenceless people, children, women and men of Indian occupied Kashmir be tried for crimes against humanity”.

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2020

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