ISLAMABAD: A proposed government plan to grant India the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status suffered multiple shocks on Thursday when the main opposition party, a bipartisan parliamentary panel on Kashmir and pro-establishment political outfits opposed it in unison.
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar informed the National Assembly last week that the government had, in principle, decided to give India MFN status and a formal announcement was likely any time.
It is, however, not known whether the decision has the backing of the military-dominated establishment, which says that most of the threats to the country’s security and territorial integrity are emanating from the east.
The loudest opposition to the plan came from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) which said it did not want war with India but had ‘serious concerns’ on giving New Delhi the MFN, a privilege through which one country gives trade concessions to the other.
A parliament’s special committee on Kashmir, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam- Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) also joined the chorus against what is seen as a big leap forward to normalise relations between the two nuclear-armed rivals.
Speaking at a news conference here, National Assembly Opposition Leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said his PML-N party had doubts that any concession to India would ever make it change its stance on Kashmir.
“I tell you, it is unrealistic to think that India will give up its hard line on Kashmir,” said Nisar in a statement in sharp contradiction to a recent public speech by PML-N President Nawaz Sharif in which he advocated cordial relations between the rivals, a position that earned him a barrage of criticism from other political factions.
“Trade with India should not be at the cost of Kashmir,” the opposition leader added. “We should not expect New Delhi to alter its position, because Musharraf gave them several concessions but none worked.”
One of Nisar’s objections to the proposal was that neither the opposition party nor the parliament was taken into confidence prior to taking a decision which touched national interest. “There must have been a parliamentary debate on it,” he argued.
In a separate statement, the secretariat of the All-Party Kashmir Committee urged the government to withdraw the plan because it was “not in accordance with the aspirations of millions of countrymen”.
“We will not let the government grant India MFN status because it never consulted us on the issue,” said JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who is also chief of the Kashmir Affairs Committee.
“We have written our dissenting notes to the foreign and commerce ministries on the issue,” said Rehman.
The JI – a political party with little presence in the parliament but considerable street power – also asked the government to withdraw its decision and extend its full support to the Kashmir liberation movement.
Concerned about the ECP and NAB
At his news conference, Nisar also criticised the government for ignoring enacting a correspondence law in pursuance of last year’s 18th constitutional amendment to give legal cover to the appointment of members to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
Chaudhry said that by delaying the key legislation, the government wanted to keep the ECP under constant pressure ahead of general elections.
He also said that in the next couple of days the PML-N would file a petition in the Supreme Court to challenge the appointment of Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari as the chief of the National Accountability Bureau.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2011.