Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.—File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told the National Assembly at the start of its new session on Monday that Pakistan would stick to its policy of non-escalation of tensions with India after a recent deadly flare-up between the two sides over the military Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir.

She reiterated what she called “our commitment not to escalate the situation” after opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan accused the government of being insensitive to national sentiments and apologetic in the face of a perceived aggressive attitude of the Indian leadership both in the government and opposition.

The minister recalled Islamabad’s initiatives such as a proposal that UN military observers posted in Kashmir for decades to investigate the LoC violations earlier this month that killed two soldiers on each side and contacts held between military officers of the two sides and said “we will not fall prey” to any provocation from the other side.

Chaudhry Nisar, taking the floor twice before and after the foreign minister’s response, said his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, did not want war or sabre-rattling, but wanted the government to firmly respond to what he called “very aggressive statements” coming from the Indian side, which he said had caused worries among Pakistanis living abroad.

He called the government “insensitive” and “sleeping” and said: “Don’t sell away Pakistan’s honour like this.”

But Ms Khar, whose comments were followed by two stinging rejoinders from Information and Broadcasting Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira both to Chaudhry Nisar and PML-N deputy secretary general Ahsan Iqbal on other issues, assured the house that the government was “very aware of challenges emanating from our eastern borders” but said a responsible diplomatic behaviour did not mean “to emulate somebody else”.

She noted that all political parties in Pakistan wanted to normalise relations with India and, in the context of the LoC incidents, said: “We have shown our commitment not to escalate the situation.”

While talking of perceived dangers from India, Chaudhry Nisar also referred to a reported speech of Indian Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde on Sunday accusing the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological ally Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh of conducting training camps to spread terrorism.

Mr Shinde’s remarks at a leadership meeting of the ruling Congress party at Jaipur, in Indian’s Rajasthan state, echoed also in the Senate at the start of a parallel session of the upper house, where Senator Mushahid Hussain of the government-allied PML-Q called for circulating copies of that statement in the UN Security Council while Pakistan was chairing the council this month.

New provinces

The remainder of wordy duels in the National Assembly mostly revolved around the move of the ruling PPP for the creation of one or two new provinces in south Punjab.

Both Chaudhry Nisar and Mr Iqbal accused the government of being insincere to the stated objective of creating new provinces and engaging in only point scoring while Mr Kaira blamed the PML-N for refusing to name its representatives on a bipartisan parliamentary commission, now examining the issue, which the party itself had proposed in a resolution passed by the Punjab Assembly.

But amid speculation on whether this will be last session of the house, which runs out its five-year term on March 16, there was no indication when the commission, set up by Speaker Fehimda Mirza in August on a reference by President Asif Ali Zardari after resolutions proposing the new provinces were passed by both the National Assembly and the Punjab Assembly, would present its report.

Chaudhry Nisar said in his speech this could be the last session of the house. But Mr Kaira would not confirm, saying this could be the last or there could be another session, “I don’t know”.

The sitting was also marked by a walkout by members of the opposition Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam to protest against the imposition of governor’s rule in Balochistan, where the party was a partner in the PPP-led coalition government, and another by PML-Q lawmakers after one of them, Sardar Bahadur Ahmed Khan Sihar, protested against not being allowed to speak about south Punjab before the house was adjourned until 11am on Tuesday.

Meeting only three days after the a dreadful four-day “dharna”, or sit-in, by the followers of Allama Tahirul Qadri near the parliament house, there were only some passing references to the virtual siege of the capital rather than any serious discussion.

PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal said Allama Qadri was “imported” to cut his party’s right-wing vote-bank and called a declaration signed by the cleric-turned-politicians as a dubious “muk maka”.

But Mr Kaira strongly protested against the use of the Punjabi “muk maka” term and said the government had taken a legal and constitutional position and, in a reference to PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif’s refusal to acknowledge a deal in 2000 with then military president Pervez Musharraf for a 10-year exile in Saudi Arabia, said: “We owned the deal (and) did not speak lies while sitting in Makkah and Medina.”