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Senate adopts policy guidelines on Pak-India relations

By Iftikhar A Khan 2016-10-08
ISLAMABAD: The Senate on Friday adopted a report of its Committee of the Whole containing policy guidelines on the country`s relations with India, recommending revival of backchannel talks with New Delhi and restoration of confidence-building measures (CBMs).

The report was presented by Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq.

Adopting the set of recommendations, the house called for re-establishing a public diplomacy office in the Ministry of Foreign Af fairs to provide an inter-ministerial space for projecting cultural, economic and trade outputs.

It was noted that there was an immediate need to put Pakistan`s case across, which unfortunately was not presented in a befitting manner over the past several decades.

This can be largely attributed to inefficient narrative regarding Indian intervention in Pakistan and human rights violations in India-held Kashmir.

The house observed that the main thrust of the Kashmir narrative should be violation by India of the UN charter which guarantees right to self-determination, violation of international declaration of human rights in Kashmir by the Indian occupation troops with the highest population-to-soldier ratio and violation of the Geneva convention where prisoners and wounded have certain fundamental rights.

The house observed that it should also be highlighted that India`s violations along the eastern border would force Pakistan to pull out troops who were engaged in the fight against terrorism.

It suggested constitution of a task force on Kashmir, comprising heads of the committees of both the houses of parliament on defence and foreign affairs and representatives of the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and intelligence agencies. The task force will be required to formulate a `doable and sustainable` Kashmir policy.

The senators recommended formation of a media coordination committee to prepare fact sheets and a counter-propaganda campaign against India, and to design and promote a media strategy for continually highlighting the Kashmir freedom struggle.

The government was asked to hire the services of international lobbyists and strategic communication firms to highlight the issue.

The members called for a comprehensive outreach to those segments of Indian publicopinion which were opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi`s extremism and his anti-Pakistan policies.

The senators wanted a loud-and-clear message sent all across the world that Pakistan is fighting the largest inland war against terrorism and violent extremism and there is no room for non-state actors, and that `Pakistan`s soil should not be allowed to be used by violent non-state actors`.

The Senate committee urged the government to take a firm stance on the Indus Waters Treaty and expose India`s credibility if it unilaterally abrogated its international treaty obligations. `Given the constant nature of continuously emerging situations, it would be appropriate to appoint a full-time foreign minister,` one of the recommendations said.

The house regretted the stand taken by Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan of staying away from the planned summit in Islamabad of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and called upon the government to adopt a proactive policy to engage with these countries.

When Senator Usman Kakar regretted that the director general of the InterServices Intelligence (ISI) did not brief the Committee of the Whole, Senate Chairman Mian Rabbani said he had come to his office and discussed the features of the briefing with him. He said the ISI DG was out of town and, therefore, could not come, but assured the house that he would brief the committee in its next session.

The Senate adopted the Special Economic Zones (Amendment Bill). The bill was presented by Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmad.

On one occasion, the Senate chairman warned that he would go to any extent if an attempt was made to take away the powers of the Senate. He observed that taking the PMDC bill to the joint session of parliament would set a dangerous precedent. The Senate had reservations over the PMDC bill passed by the National Assembly, but has been sent to the joint session, bypassing the Senate.

The chairman said he had also written a letter to the speaker of the National Assembly for not presenting the bill for approval before the joint session. `You cannot deprive the Senate of its constitutional right,` he remarked.

Law Minister Zahid Hamid explained that it had not deliberately been done by the minister of state for health. The house was prorogued sine die.