(By: Sardar Khan Niazi)
What importance the conferences like National Consultation Conference on Kashmir organised by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Fazlur Rehman in Islamabad on Saturday possess? Undoubtedly, the purpose of holding conferences on Kashmir and observing the solidarity day with the Kashmiris is to highlight the Indian occupation of Kashmir and the atrocities committed against them. Who doesn’t know that the international narrative is changing and the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has listed the Indian crimes and even the British Parliamentary Group has recommended imposing economic sanctions on India. The Opposition Leader in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq said there is a need to convene a similar conference in Muzaffarabad where Kashmiris would speak. Okay, but what we have done so far to provide permanent solution to the Kashmir issue except holding costly conferences. Despite the fact that the national political leadership said they were united on the core issue of Kashmir between Pakistan and India and on the need to rise above politics and play role for the resolution of Kashmir issue, the JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman showed no reluctance in saying that he remained the Kashmir Committee’s chairman for a long time and saw governments closely but he did not see any ruler as nonchalant and apathetic on the Kashmir issue as the present ones. The Jamaat-e-Islami’s Liaquat Baloch also said it seems Kashmir issue is not on the priority list of the present government. He also said instead of addressing the UN General Assembly Prime Minister Imran Khan had sent Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi for the address that had sent a negative message to the people of Kashmir. Was it a platform to condemn the incumbent government? The Prime Minister AJK, Raja Farooq Haider rightly said the Kashmir issue has been affected by the political conflicts and except three political parties, no other political party has included it in their manifestos. “Let’s make Azad Kashmir the base camp and make a Kashmir policy,” he suggested. The PPP’s Nayyer Hussain Bokhari said internal stability is must for the resolution of the Kashmir issue. He said the government has not constituted the standing committees including the Kashmir Committee of Parliament.Unfortunately, in the past within a period of three years Kashmir Committee’s three meetings, 21 statementsand several foreign trips cost exchequer Rs 175million. Official documents as reported by the media reveal the committee has badly failed to contribute a single line in the country’s Kashmir policy, the integral part of the country’s foreign policy. Despite its dismal performance the committee has been headed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F without any checks and balances. It gives impetus to the allegations that the then PML-N ruling party dished out the important office to its ally as a political bribe without realizing it would undermine the collective efforts on Kashmir cause. Since the only visible effort made by the committee in the last few years has been just three meetings, the critics were compelled to say that one meeting cost the national exchequer a staggering amount of Rs 60 million. And those three meetings were held on the occasion of Kashmir Solidarity Day, observed in Pakistan on 5 February. Official documents reveal the Kashmir committee again got Rs 50.814 million in the next financial year. A chuck of that money was spent on salaries of 38 politically appointed staff members of the committee. Besides issuing 21 press statements in the last three years, the only other achievement of the committee’s chairman is to regularly submit a Kashmir-specific memorandum to United Nations’ country representative on Kashmir Day. Documents reveal that the chairman enjoys the status of the federal minister. His perks include a 1300CC car, 360 liter petrol per/month and a house in the elite ministers’ colony. The budget of the Kashmir committee is far higher than other parliamentary committees since it enjoys a special status. The presence of people like Maulana Fazlur Rehman has converted the committee into a redundant forum, as the Maulana is known as a politician who never misses any opportunity. Famous senior Analyst Haroon Rashid once said it was a joke that Maulana Fazlur Rehman was heading the Kashmir committee. The latest news is that Kashmir Day conference will be hosted in London by an All Party Parliamentary Group, one of many informal cross-party groups. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has already left for London to attend the event. Happily, the British government has refused the Indian request for stopping planned Kashmir Day events in London, saying citizens’ right to protest cannot be curtailed. “A number of private events organized by various campaign groups take place each year in the UK. People in the UK have a right to protest and to demonstrate their views, provided they act within the law,” read a brief statement shared by the British High Commission with the media. This stance was taken by the British government after India strongly protested with it over the planned Kashmir Conference in the House of Commons on Feb 4 and an exhibition in London on Feb 5 to highlight the Jammu and Kashmir dispute and grave human rights violations against the Kashmiri people by India. The Indian government, after failing to convince the British government to stop the event, is now taking solace in the fact that the UK has described the Kashmir Day activities in London as ‘private events’. The British government, according to a source, has informed the Indian authorities that “Mr Qureshi is travelling to London to attend a number of private events. There are no plans for meetings with the UK government during this visit and he is not a guest of the government”. Earlier, India had protested with Pakistan over FM Qureshi’s telephonic conversation with All Parties Hurriyat Conference leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. The Foreign Office rejected Indian objections and reaffirmed Pakistan’s continued support for the struggle of the Kashmiri people. Mr Qureshi had called Mirwaiz on Tuesday to update him about the Kashmir Day conference and exhibition.