ISLAMABAD: The country’s major opposition parties have expressed concerns over the statement of Prime Minister Imran Khan regarding the future status of Azad Jammu and Kash­mir (AJK) and asked him for an explanation to parliament over his remarks.

The reaction came from leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) on Saturday, a day after the prime minister while addressing two election rallies in the towns of Tarar Khal and Kotli in AJK on Friday reiterated an earlier commitment to the Kashmiris and assured them that Islamabad would grant them the right to live as an independent nation if they decided to do so even after acceding to Pakistan through the United Nations-sponsored plebiscite.

Mr Khan brushed aside allegations by his opponents that he wanted to convert AJK into a province and said he did not know as to where this idea had stemmed from.

Mr Khan had said the unprecedented sacrifices rendered by them would not go in vain and they would exercise their right to self-determination and decide to accede to Pakistan and not India through a UN-sponsored referendum.

“Afterwards, we will hold another referendum whereby Kashmiri people will be asked to decide whether they want to live with Pakistan or as an independent nation,” he said at both places in almost identical words, amid rounds of applause from the charged gatherings.

PML-N president and Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif rejected the prime minister’s statement of holding a referendum in Kashmir outright, alleging that Imran Khan had deviated from Pakistan’s historic and constitutional stance.

Mr Sharif said the entire nation rejected any stance and position other than that proposed by the United Nations resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir. He said this statement by Imran Khan had proved true all the suspicions and skepticism that surfaced among the people after India’s action of annexing Occupied Kashmir on Aug 5, 2019.

Mr Sharif said the Kashmir issue would be resolved only by the transparent free and fair plebiscite held under the supervision of the UN through which the Kashmiris would practice their unalienable right to self-determination. This, he said, was the longstanding stance of Pakistan and the people of Kashmir.

The PML-N president said any attempt to impose a solution on Kashmiris without their will and consultation would be equal to helping India and a betrayal to the Kashmir cause.

Speaking at a news conference at Sindh House here on Saturday, PPP senators Palwasha Khan and Rubina Khalid also expressed their concerns over the prime minister’s remarks, saying that Kashmir had been a juggler vein of Pakistan for the past 70 years.

The two PPP senators said it seemed that the prime minister had some “secrets and things” which he did not want to share with the people. They said if Imran Khan had any options then he should tell the nation as to who had given him these options and why he was not bringing them before the parliament.

The two PPP women parliamentarians lashed out at the present government’s foreign policy and said that never in the past a friend like China had come up with such a “hard narrative” against Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2021

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