By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
LAST week, people of Pakistan celebrated their 72nd Independence anniversary in most challenging circumstances standing at a critical cross road. Unlike previous years the current situation is worse than ever before. Despite our claims of having support from various quarters, we are almost in total isolation. Our civil and military leadership are searching for a ray of hope or a straw to hang on. Twenty million strong Ummah during Hajj khutba forgot about the fresh wave of atrocities on the Kashmiris.
That being a pathetic environment of despondency and sad commentary on the deplorable attitude of Muslim Ummah. In this dismal atmosphere PTI government at long last conceded reluctantly to summon joint session of the Parliament to debate the grave situation arising out of the abrogation by Indian government of Article 370 ending special status to the occupied state.
Pakistani Parliamentarians spoke at length on the pros and cons of abrogation. Some spoke well while others indulged in sheer rhetorics. Former Chairman Senate and senior Senator Raza Rabbani, however, made a forceful lamentation of how systematically state, institutions, elite other than Parliament have done their best to keep Pakistan’s Foreign Policy out of the purview of the Parliament. Except of course the time of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when Foreign Policy was fully debated by the Parliament and Parliament’s input counted a lot, in rest of the years Parliament was just used as a rubber stamp by the powers that be.
Despite having learnt a lesson in advantages of keeping Parliament on board during 2008 and 2018, now PTI government hardly bothers about Parliament and its role in pursuit of or framing of foreign policy. It was good to see Parliament convened but sooner than later, how non serious was the effort that Prime Minister Khan turned up six hours late to attend the crucial session. In addition to the joke, PM Khan appointed a committee to seek ways and means to counter Indian moves with only Foreign Minister as its member from among the Parliamentarians. Rest are outsiders. Opposition has rightly rejected its composition demanding that it be replaced by a Joint Parliamentary Committee.
Members also raised their feeble voices over the failure of Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus in calculating Indian moves for abrogating Article 370 and Article 35-A. A poker faced Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi revealed to the house that the possible move to abrogate Article 370 was discussed in the NSC meeting but ‘we did not think that Modi would enforce it so soon’. It may also be mentioned here that Indian NSA had also made it clear in Bangkok to the Americans that preparations were in order to abrogate Article 370 since quite sometime.
Senator Raza Rabbani warned the government of nexus between Washington, Tel Aviv and Delhi. In his words Modi has conquered Kashmir by making mince meat of UN resolutions for the right of self-determination and he called upon Pakistan to be ready to welcome refugees from Indian occupied Kashmir where people are being subjected to State terrorism, Genocide, Ethnic cleansing. Influx of refugees would be India’s most effective weapon to teach Pakistan a lesson.
Senator Rabbani urged upon the government to mobilise public opinion in western capitals by internationalising the human rights issue in Kashmir. We have failed to wake up world conscience because we lost our influence in international community because of our failed foreign policy. He urged upon the House to get down to introduce structural changes in the foreign policy from the floor of the House to frame an independent foreign policy. We shall have to draw a curtain on the ignominy of playing role of a client state, refuse to accept to be some sort of policing role for us for the pleasure of the United States. Senator Raza Rabbani is right in urging upon our leaders and Establishment to stop looking towards Washington as panacea to all our ills. Our future, indeed, lies within Asia.
After seeing the Pakistan Parliament’s joint session, we noticed several interesting things besides the fact that PM Imran Khan didn’t come to Parliament at the appointed hour but several hours late in the afternoon. It was surprising to note that the Joint Session of Parliament was called to meet to discuss the situation arising out of India’s arbitrary decision to abrogate Article 370 but it was not mentioned in Parliament’s agenda. It was only after Opposition’s intervention that Article 370 was added to the agenda. Instead of sustaining attention on the crux of the debate, prominent PTI Parliamentarian Dr Shireen Mazari spoke vitriolic-ally and attacked Opposition Parliamentarians instead of talking about Article 370 and 35-A. Noticing government’s deliberate waywardness in the debate as a share waste of time, Opposition Parliamentarians walked out of the house.
After great deal of persuasion and intervention of senior Parliamentarians who felt ashamed to let Kashmir debate end in a rumpus when the purpose of the Joint Session was to put up a show of united solidarity with the people of the Indian Occupied State. Redeeming feature of resumption of debate was joining of Prime Minister Khan. Speaker was accused by members of having held no consultation with any leader before making agenda of the business for the house. Later, after the session Parliamentarians went to the Speaker and suggested the need for a strong session to discuss the gravity of the situation rather an exercise in futility that was all on the first day.
In conclusion one would agree with Senator Raza Rabbani that ruling elite and the Establishment must restore the Parliament its lost glory and total sovereignty over matters state- whether foreign policy or defence of the country. Looking at the quality, tone and tenor of the Joint Session, one is sad to conclude to regret that it showed bankruptcy in state of politics and political classes which were unable to decide whether this issue was really big enough for a serious debate.
(The writer is the former High Commissioner for Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)