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August 30, 2016

How much effective envoys mission on Kashmir will be?


August 30, 2016

ISLAMABAD: With government’s announcement of 20 parliamentarians to be sent to world capitals as special envoys to highlight Kashmir issue, and more mainstream opposition MPs -- 4-5 from PPP folds, and 2 from PTI -- to be included in the effort, a debate is raging in Pakistan media how effective the whole move could be in the modern day targeted, specialised diplomacy in the prevalent international environment.

The News exclusively talked to Defense Minister and senior PML-N leader, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, PML-N ally and President PML-Z, MP Ejaz ul Haq, Former PPP minister and ex-ambassador to United States, Senator Sherry Rehman, former Pak ambassador to US Husain Haqqani, PTI legislator and policy maker, MNA Asad Umar, Defense and Foreign Policy analysts, Maria Sultan and Brigadier (R) Ghazanfar Ali Shah, and PML-N leader and analyst Jan Mohammad Achakzai about the whole debate and their points of view on the issue.

The main points to ponder revolved around whether many of these Pakistani parliamentarians are equipped with minimum required tools of modern day diplomacy, public dealing, and media handling? Or it will prove just another pleasure trip for some of these legislators who have a dismal record of raising issues of public and national interests in their own parliament? What are the sensitivities and stakes involved in the whole issue? Is this being done for point scoring across Pakistan, and opinion in the world capitals will hardly change as being feared by some quarters?. Do we enjoy enough economic muscle, diplomatic tactics and clout in world capitals to take on India on Kashmir? Already the Kashmir Committee of the Parliament headed by JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman is facing criticism for inaction and lethargic approach in highlighting Kashmir cause.

But officials say a plan has been finalised to brief these special envoys through top foreign office officials, provide them with literature and videos for their own knowledge and for distribution to world parliamentarians, human rights organisations etc. And they (envoys) will undertake these visits after days of preparation, threadbare discussions with officials, diplomats. 

With Pakistani public, and Kashmiris on both sides of the divide, closely monitoring the whole move, and India waiting in the flank to launch its counter move, there is an urge across the Pakistan society that these special envoys be prepared and briefed well as the whole exercise involves national honour, and millions from the public exchequer. 

Talking to The News, Khawaja Asif said dispatch of parliamentarians as special envoys amply demonstrates government’s concern on sensitizing the international community on Kashmir issue. “These parliamentarians will meet MPs, government officials, and try to interact with media”. “They will be properly briefed by the Foreign Office and respective diplomats as well as government officials”. 

They would be, he added, accompanied by our own diplomats in respective countries so that they can effectively deliver our message, explain country’s concern and position on the Kashmir issue as millions of Kashmiris are suffering atrocities at the hands of Indian security forces, and gross human rights violations are taking place.” 

“Even some of our close friends don’t know about the current state of affairs in Kashmir,” he maintained.  Asif brushed aside criticism from some opposition figures who opine that these parliamentarians won’t have any impact, arguing “people’s representatives have their own weight and stature”.

PML-Z chief and MP Ejazul Haq, who will be heading to Brussles as special envoy, said the government has centralised the Kashmir issue, and with parliamentarians reaching important world capitals, international and human rights organisations, the whole efforts will pay dividends. He said representative delegations of government, allies and opposition members would send a good signal that everyone was on one page regarding the Kashmir issue and one voice would be heard internationally. 

“India has already started to feel heat of the situation and is criticising the effort”. Ejaz said they are also in touch with All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) to get their input on this matter. 

Senator Sherry Rehman opined: “It will amount to pointless junketing (through such special envoys) because this is indeed the age of specialised diplomacy. “Kashmir needs much more targeted and smart diplomacy than the old patronage routines they are trying on again,” she added.

Asad Umar said: “The issue revolves around clarity of the government policy, and its commitment to pursue it, not shortage of people carrying the message.”

Husain Haqqani opined: “The international environment is not conducive to persuasion over Kashmir right now. Until Pakistan can demonstrate its complete disassociation with Jihadi terrorist groups, delegations like these will be nothing more than junkets. 

“Last year, when PM Nawaz Sharif raised Kashmir at the UN, it was big news in the Pakistani media, but, no other country even mentioned Kashmir and PM Sharif's speech was not even reported in the international media”. 

Haqqani, an ally turned rebel of the Pakistani establishment, said: “These delegations will also only play to public opinion in Pakistan. Although multi-party delegations, including opposition, are always better, I doubt that inclusion of opposition leaders in delegations will change the low level of global interest in Kashmir.

“It is a harsh reality, but one, we have to face. Pakistan must disassociate with Jihadi terrorism completely, improve its economy and standing in the world, and then perhaps, it could be heard more abroad. Making statements about Kashmir in New York, London or Paris only to score points in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Gujranwala is not an effective way to highlight the Kashmir issue,” Haqqani maintained.

Defense and Foreign policy analyst Maria Sultan said: “Palestinian state has been recognised in the United Nations as a result of such concentrated efforts, but all this cannot be done if the Pakistani Kashmiris don't take the lead and support the initiative. 

“This should be a synchronised effort by the state and the government, not just feel good visits.” The work of these envoys, Maria pointed out, must be seen in the backdrop of the attention they can bring and the support that can muster. “These people would also have to show commitment to the issue and internationally represent a united front for the cause of Kashmir, the atrocities being committed there, and a desire to engage with various groups to bring attention to the Kashmir problem.

“It is good decision provided the envoys work on the issue and come up with specific aspects they will highlight,” she said.  

Brigadier (R) Ghanzafar Ali Shah said: “This decision had been taken basically because of wrong selection or casual and unconcerned attitude of the PML-N as they appointed Mulana Fazlur Rehman as Kashmir committee chairman who is undesirable person in western capitals. 

“Pakistan has not made any efforts to highlight human rights violations in Kashmir through diplomatic channels, or through some lobby in print media, or in interaction with western government, so it’s a failure of the incumbent government.

“Moreover Pak government through its cover officers in embassies has not been able to mobilise Pakistani Kashmiris living abroad to get their protest recorded at the UN and different world capitals.”

Now sending some delegations, Shah added, to project the issue in cooperation with different forums is not a wrong choice, but it must include opposition members, and members from Kashmir assembly who have contacts with Pakistan community or think tanks over there.

Jan Muhammad Achakzai, PML-N leader and analyst, said: “This is the best move from the prime minister. These envoys will look into the eyes of their counterparts and other policy makers across the world capitals, and ask how many more deaths they need in Kahsmir to speak about the issue.”

Envoys will, he added, have straight communication in selling the idea that India is not a credible interlocutor to resolve issue of Kashmir. “Terse diplomacy needs political narrative by politicians so these envoys will couch Pakistan's national thinking and narrative in the best possible plain language,” he opined. 

Achakzai said sometimes diplomats cannot reach to places where special envoys could get to. “The delegations will be drawn from across political spectrum, and the world also will know it is a bi-partisan issue for the people of Pakistan to be alarmed about. “So it is a smart move by the PML-N government to systematically campaign on Kashmir situation,” Achakzai felt.