The joint session of the parliament resumed on Tuesday to discuss the country’s future course of action in the wake of India’s decision to revoke Article 370 of its constitution, stripping occupied Kashmir of its special status.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was initially absent from parliament when the session began in the morning, arrived later when proceedings resumed after an adjournment to deliver a policy statement.
The prime minister’s address was briefly disrupted at the start by the opposition, after which Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif asked for silence from the opposition benches.
The premier began by saying, “This session is not only important for the Kashmiri people and the Pakistani people, but it will have repercussions around the world. That is why I request all to listen carefully.”
Recalling his government’s efforts to mend fences with Pakistan’s neighbours, the prime minister recalled that, “When we took up government (of Pakistan), our main priority was to address poverty in our country. We reached out to all our neighbours, because without having a semblance of normalcy in ties with them, we cannot attain stability and alleviate poverty.
“All my trips to neighbouring countries were meant for this purpose. I visited Afghanistan, and asked them that we work to address our past differences. I talked to India, telling them if you take one step towards us, we will come two step towards you. I went to Iran [with similar aims] and I visited America.
“When I first reached out to India, they expressed concerns that there were militant outfits operating from Pakistan. I told [Narendra] Modi that after the grave and painful tragedy of the Army Public School massacre, all our political parties had resolved to never let the territory of Pakistan be used for terrorist activities. But I got the feeling that the Indian side was not serious about talks.”
“I soon realised that India was not interested in talking to us,” the premier told the parliament. “They took our overtures for peace as weakness, so we stopped extending offers to hold talks.
“Then Pulwama happened. Thank God our air force responded in the way it did. We shot down their pilot, but returned him immediately to send the message that we did not want war. We resolved that we would not move forward on talks over Kashmir till after the [Indian] elections.
“When we went to Bishkek, my suspicions regarding their unwillingness to speak was strengthened.
“What happened yesterday has only confirmed my suspicion [about India’s unwillingness to talk]. This is not a decision they [the BJP] have taken out of the blue. It was part of their election manifesto all along. It is, in fact, ingrained in their ideology that puts Hindus above all other religions and seeks to establish a state that represses all other religious groups.”
“What they did in Kashmir is in accordance with their ideology. They have a racist ideology,” he declared. “They have violated their own country’s and international laws to [uphold] their ideology.
“I had asked United States President Donald Trump to intervene [in Kashmir] because our bilateral talks [with India] had failed,” he explained, addressing questions about why America had gotten involved in the matter.
“This [the Kashmir unrest] is going to become a big issue now. The people who have kept their resistance alive despite state brutality over the last five years will not stop just because they [the BJP] have changed a law. In fact, this is going to get more serious,” he warned.
“They [Indian state forces] will now crack down even harder on the Kashmiri people. They will try to suppress the Kashmiri resistance with brute force. I fear that they may initiate ethnic cleansing in Kashmir to wipe out the local population. With an approach of this nature, incidents like Pulwama are bound to happen again. I can already predict this will happen. They will attempt to place the blame on us again. They may strike us again, and we will strike back.
“What will happen then? They will attack us and we will respond. The war can go both ways […] But if we fight a war in which we have resolved to fight till the last drop of our blood is shed, who will win that war?” he asked.
“No one will win such a war and it will have grievous consequences for the entire world. This is not nuclear blackmail — this is what will happen if you logically follow the chain of events that have been triggered.
“We want the global leadership to take note. My party and I are taking the responsibility to approach the leaders of the world and apprise them of what is happening in Kashmir. I know the Western world, and I feel like they are not sufficiently aware of what is happening in Kashmir. I will inform them that what the Indian government is doing in Kashmir and what it is doing to Muslims and minorities in India goes against everything the Western world believes in.”
‘Massive foreign policy failure’
Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif called for a decisive response to India’s decisions regarding Kashmir.
“There is no doubt that we must maintain good relations with all our neighbours. We fought three wars against India and the results are before everyone to see […] We want friendly relations but with self respect,” he said.
“Is it not our massive failure? That we didn’t know what the Indian government was thinking? Yes we are united for the cause of Pakistan but that [unity] should not [come] without self-introspection.
“We have two options: either we hide or we take decisive action. Hiding is not an option, we must take decisive action.”
He noted that none of the friendly nations, including China, had stepped up in Pakistan’s favour. “Is this not a massive failure of our foreign policy?”
“I believe that what is good for Afghanistan is good for Pakistan and vice versa […] but we should not exhaust all our resources in trying to establish peace [in Afghanistan] without getting anything in return. We have to ask [the government]: Was President Trump’s offer to mediate his trump card or trap card?”
“We will neither let Modi turn [India] into Israel nor allow Kashmir to turn into Palestine […] India has been given a free hand while we assure the world that we want peace in Kabul. Are we the only ones responsible [to establish peace in Afghanistan]?”
Sharif assured that the opposition will stand with the government on this issue as the “nation needed to show unity, now more than ever”.
Prime Minister Imran, in response to Sharif’s speech, asked the parliament to advise the government on what to do next.
“What measures have I not taken? Our Foreign Office has held meetings with ambassadors, I have reached out to other countries, we are approaching international forums. What does he [Sharif] suggest I should do, launch an attack on India?”
The premier further asked what Sharif’s party had done to address the Kashmir dispute during its time in power. Sharif responded by saying that the prime minister was not being asked to start a war but to pick a strong stance.
Following Sharif’s speech, the prime minister walked out of the parliament, before Bilawal could deliver his address.
‘We demand leadership’
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, in his parliamentary address, demanded that the prime minister of Pakistan rise to the occasion and demonstrate the kind of leadership which “every Pakistani expects from him”.
He said that India’s excessive deployment in the region, expulsion of pilgrims and tourists, closure of educational institutions and the arrest of politicians who had served as allies to the Indian government has culminated in “a brutal, historical attack. An attack not only on Kashmir but an attack on the UN, an attack on international law, norms and precedents, democracy, rule of law, and inalienable right to self determination”.
The PPP chairman went on to say that it was “an attack obviously on the Muslims of Kashmir, but it was also an attack on India, on the idea of India as a secular democratic India where all citizens have the right to be treated equally.”
“It is an attack on the India of Nehru and Gandhi, but it is also an attack on the India of Vajpayee,” he added.
“The unilateral usurpation of rights forever guaranteed to Kashmiris, the unilateral, illegal revocation of Article 35-A and 370 demolishes the historical identity of occupied Kashmir.
“It opens the door for Kashmiris to be turned into a minority in their own homes.
“If Kashmir was a flashpoint before, a human rights disaster before, if peace in the region was held hostage to Kashmir before, with one stroke of the pen, Mr Speaker, India has now opened up a Pandora’s box that has the potential to engulf the entire region in flames and it has also opened the door to a potential nuclear catastrophe.
“We will not accept it, the people of Kashmir will not accept it, the people of India should not accept it and the world should not accept it.
“Modi is playing with fire,” he said.
“We demand leadership from this government,” he continued.
“The prime minister is asking what he should do. But so far we have not even seen a policy statement. All we have had is a tweet, and this ahistorical speech without any context, without any direction, without any plan, without any strategy.
“Selected or not, the prime minister must rise to the occasion. This is what every Pakistani expects from him,” said Bilawal.
He criticised the absence of Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and mockingly suggested that “perhaps Shireen Mazari should be made foreign minister […] maybe she will handle things properly.”
He also regretted the absence of many members of the House during such an important session, making special mention of former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, PML-N’s Punjab president Rana Sanaullah and “two MNAs from North and South Waziristan”.
Opposition protested because govt resolution didn’t mention Article 370
After the session’s adjournment earlier today, PML-N leader Ahsan Iqbal spoke to reporters outside parliament building and said that the opposition had protested “with a heavy heart” because the resolution presented by the government did not mention the reason due to which the session had been called: the scrapping of Article 370.
“All international laws recognise the border that separates Indian-occupied Kashmir and Azad Jammu and Kashmir as Line of Control. India tried to convert Line of Control into an international border, which is not a trivial matter.
“India took such a major step and the resolution does not even mention it; this is why opposition protested today,” the PML-N leader said. He added that Prime Minister Imran Khan was not in attendance even though the opposition had chosen to forgo the matter of non-issuance of production orders [for arrested MNAs] to show unity and discuss the Kashmir issue.
He further said the the foreign minister, who is currently out of the country, should have returned by a chartered plane to brief the parliament on the situation even if it was for a day.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information Firdous Ashiq Awan also addressed opposition’s protest in a conversation with media outside Parliament House and said: “We respect the opposition’s wishes and will make the additions they are calling for because no controversy should be created on a resolution supporting the rights of Kashmiris.”
“Kashmiris are looking towards Pakistan in this time of dire need,” she added. “We would like them to know that they are not alone; Pakistan will continue its diplomatic support for their cause and raise the matter on all relevant forums.
“We are looking to raise the matter in the United Nations and ask the forum to look into India’s violation of their conventions.”
Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry called upon the political leadership to “stop fighting on trivial issues” and focus on the situation at hand.
“Modi government is trying to make Kashmir another Palestine by changing the population demography and bringing settlers into Kashmir. Parliamentarians must stop fighting on trivial issues; lets respond [to] India by blood, tears, toil and sweat, we must be ready to fight if war is imposed,” he said in a tweet.
‘Kashmir was and will remain disputed’
Before the joint session resumed, Sharif met Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider in his chamber and said that Pakistan will continue to stand alongside Kashmiris.
“No matter what India does, Kashmir was and will remain disputed [territory],” Sharif said. He also expressed concern over the health of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Chairman Yasin Malik.
Haider briefed Sharif about the situation in AJK and said that the Indian forces had been targeting civilians by using cluster bombs from across LoC.
“If [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi thinks Kashmiris will give up their right to self-determination, he is mistaken,” Haider said.
Parliament joint session
The joint session of upper and lower houses was summoned by President Arif Alvi yesterday to decide Pakistan’s future course of action in the wake of India’s decision to strip occupied Kashmir of its special status under Article 370. But the session was disrupted soon after beginning by protest from opposition lawmakers who pointed out that the resolution, moved by Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Azam Khan Swati condemning India’s “illegal actions” in occupied Kashmir, did not specifically mention Article 370 of the Indian constitution.
Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Sharif, PML-N leaders Khawaja Asif and Ayaz Sadiq among other MNAs as well as senators were in attendance. AJK premier was also attending today’s session.
Opposition parties had demanded that a joint session be convened soon after media broke the news of India’s decision to repeal Article 370. PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was the first opposition leader who had called for immediately summoning the joint session of parliament. He then flew to Islamabad from Karachi to participate in the joint session.
“This House may discuss the recent surge in unprovoked firing and shelling on civilian population and use of cluster bombs by Indian forces in Azad Jammu and Kashmir; deployment of additional troops and atrocities in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir and recent developments,” said the agenda issued yesterday by the National Assembly Secretariat for the joint sitting.
Meanwhile, a Corps Commander meeting under the chairmanship of Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa was held in Rawalpindi to discuss the deteriorating situation in occupied Kashmir and the Indian aggression along the Line of Control.
India’s presidential order
Yesterday, India’s ruling BJP stripped Kashmiris of the special autonomy they had for seven decades through a rushed presidential order. An indefinite curfew — that has entered its second day — was imposed in occupied Kashmir and elected leaders were put under house arrest.
By repealing Article 370 of the constitution, people from the rest of India will now have the right to acquire property in IoK and settle there permanently. Kashmiris as well as critics of India’s Hindu nationalist-led government see the move as an attempt to dilute the demographics of Muslim-majority Kashmir with Hindu settlers.
Furthermore, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, who is also president of the BJP, moved a bill to bifurcate the state into two union territories — one, Jammu and Kashmir, which will have a legislature, and the other, Ladakh — to be directly ruled by New Delhi.