FM Qureshi says Afghan situation cannot be viewed in isolation from situation on eastern border

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday said it must be realised that “the situation in Afghanistan cannot be viewed in isolation with the situation on our eastern border”.

His remarks came during a joint press conference held with Chairman Kashmir Committee Syed Fakhar Imam in Islamabad on Wednesday evening.

Earlier in the day, the fifth meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Jammu and Kashmir was held in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The foreign minister had briefed the members of the committee on the recent visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to the United States.

The committee was apprised of the fact that the prime minister exchanged his views with US President Donald Trump on a wide range of issues, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

In the press conference that followed the meeting, Qureshi said that the purpose of today’s meeting was “to discern the way forward given the silver lining that has emerged from US President Donald Trump’s offer of mediation in the Kashmir dispute”.

He said that given this new ray of hope and in the backdrop of existing “momentum in activities focused on drawing international attention to the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, particularly with the publication of the successive international reports which extensively document the human rights situation in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, it must be realised that the situation in Afghanistan cannot be viewed in isolation from the situation on the eastern border”.

“Our deployment on the Western border is one thing, as is the Pak Army’s role in securing the region, the merger of the areas in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province through an amendment in the Constitution, the holding of peaceful elections there, the funds set aside in the budget for its development and the progress we are achieving there.

“We cannot remain oblivious to the fact that our attention is diverted when it comes to the eastern border so obviously the situation in Afghanistan can be impacted and negative elements can play the role of a spoiler so we have to see how to move forward given these facts.”

The foreign minister went on to say that there are two new developments which are even more pressing in the situation we see unfolding.

“You are well aware of the human rights violations there [Indian-occupied Kashmir], how it has been turned into the world’s most militarised zone, and how there is an excessive use of state power there.

“And how with the Pulwama incident they [India] attempted to show us aggression and how we defended ourselves is also plain for all to see. Furthermore, [it is known] how they tried to play the ‘Pakistan card’ in their elections knowing full well that the situation is worsening in occupied Kashmir.

“Neither are they willing to undertake bilateral talks, nor are they receptive to a third party facilitation,” remarked the foreign minister.

He said that the two new worrisome developments, with all these facts in the backdrop, is a speculated new deployment of forces in Indian-occupied Kashmir and the talk of a demographic change being sought by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The foreign minister was referring here to the attempts by the BJP to artificially change Kashmir’s demography by repealing Articles 35-A and 370 of the Indian constitution.

Article 370 provides an autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir and Article 35-A prevents settlements or the acquisition of immovable property by non-Kashmiris in the occupied territory.

Petitions are pending in the Indian supreme court to nullify Articles 370 and 35-A and thus bring Kashmir on a par with states by stripping it of its “special status”.

“There is speculation that they have decided to send in additional forces on an emergency basis […] around 10,000 additional troops are being sent to occupied Kashmir. They are being flown in. So this is something that merits our attention. What is the need to send in such a large number of forces when you already have such a huge number deployed?” said Qureshi.

“The other thing is that there has been talk in the past of a demographic change which is also under review in the [Indian] court. [We know] BJP’s stance. If a new step is taken what effect will it have on the region and the situation in Kashmir?” he continued.

The foreign minister said that in Kashmir, there are already deliberations underway to address these newfound fears.

“There was talk of an all-parties conference and the forces that were coalition partners at a point in time are not only distancing themselves from the government policies, but are expressing their reservations and wish to meet the prime minister. Mehmooba Mufti also says there should be an all-parties confetence minus the BJP,” he said.

“So there is a wave of fear in Kashmir as well over what is happening [in Indian-occupied Kashmir]. If there is a demographic change, then how will it impact what is laid out in the UN resolution?”

“So we had an exchange of views on all these matters and I am happy to share that all the political parties today not only had representation but there was a new resolve; we reiterated that the entire nation and parliament stands as one [on this issue],” said Qureshi.

“We saw how after 9/11 India very cleverly and expertly started painting the right to self determination movement with a hue of terrorism,” he said, adding, “And how India with its new alignment [in the region] and market position was able to have the other countries look the other way.”

The foreign minister said he has invited the foreign relations committee of the National Assembly to meet tomorrow and they too will be taken into confidence on the evolving situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir.