ISLAMABAD: The opposition members who participated in the national consultation on the Kashmir situation at the Foreign Office here on Tuesday, although welcomed the government’s initiative to invite them to a briefing, raised objection over the absence of Prime Minister Imran Khan from such an important event.

Talking to Dawn after attending the meeting, the opposition members also challenged the government’s claim that it was an “all parties conference” on the Kashmir situation, saying it was a simple “briefing session” in which the government only informed them about the special events being organised by it on Wednesday (today) to mark the first anniversary of the illegal annexation of Occupied Kashmir by India through a controversial constitutional amendment on August 5 last year.

“This was clearly not an APC. This was simply a briefing,” said parliamentary leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the Senate Sherry Rehman while talking to Dawn.

Ms Rehman said that in the meeting she forcefully raised the issue of prime minister’s absence. She regretted that the prime minister had been missing since last August and he did not have time to attend the meeting that had been called by the government itself to discuss an important national issue on the eve of August 5.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

Also objects to government’s claim that it was an all-party conference

“Is Kashmir not an important enough issue for the prime minister?” she asked, while criticising Mr Khan for not taking the opposition into confidence on key national issues.

“If you wanted to send a powerful message on Kashmir, the government should have called a proper meeting inviting entire leadership of Pakistan (and) agreeing on a joint resolution for presentation in the parliament or here,” she said.

The PPP senator said she had told the government that “whatever differences we have, our leadership would have been here today” if the prime minister had taken this initiative.

Ms Rehman recalled that the country had a history of prime ministers convening all-party conferences on important national issues, including Kashmir, which were participated by the opposition parties despite having bitter differences with the government.

Sources said during the briefing the opposition members also raised questions over the government’s move to issue a new political map of the country showing the occupied valley as a part of Pakistan.

The sources said that Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi presided over the meeting and gave a briefing on the government’s policy on Kashmir. National Security Adviser Moeed Yousuf highlighted some of the events arranged by the government to mark the first anniversary of the illegal annexation of Occupied Kashmir by New Delhi and director-general Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed briefed the participants on the situation in the occupied valley.

Talking to Dawn, spokesman for PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, who was also present in the briefing, said that the government had “only informed them” on the issue of new political map of the country and that the party had so far not endorsed the move.

He said the party would come out with its clear stance on the issue after discussing it in the party’s core committee meeting.

On the other hand, Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) said that they had endorsed the new map unveiled by the government as there was nothing objectionable in it.

The PML-N senator, who is also the head of the Senate’s foreign affairs committee, also presented a “Kashmir Action Plan” in the session, suggesting a number of steps that should be taken by the government for the Kashmir cause.

The PML-N senator called for giving “full moral, political, media and diplomatic support to the widespread upsurge of the Kashmiri people” after building a “united front of all Kashmiris who reject the annexation and who are now victims of Modi’s fascism, from Syed Ali Gilani to Dr Farooq Abdullah to Mehbooba Mufti”.

He also called for developing clarity for an India Policy that is clear on the “nature of the Modi government and its designs with an outreach to Indian minorities/civil society/political parties/media critical of Modi’s extremist and divisive policies”.

He suggested formation of a media coordination committee comprising selected journalists, representatives of Foreign Office, Ministry of Information, Parliament and relevant stakeholders to prepare fact sheets and a campaign to promote a media strategy for continually highlighting the Kashmiri freedom struggle.

Those who attended the conference included Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, Information Minister Shibli Faraz, Law Minister Farogh Naseem, Minister for Kashmir Affairs Ali Amin Gandapur, Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Dr Fehmida Mirza, Kashmir Committee Chairman Sheharyar Afridi, Raja Zafarul Haq and Khawaja Asif of the PML-N, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Syed Naveed Qamar and Sherry Rehman of the PPP, Mushtaq Ahmed and Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Aimal Wali Khan and Sitara Ayaz of the Awami National Party and Anwarul Haq Kakar of Balochistan Awami Party.

No one from the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam attended the meeting.

Speaking at the conference, Foreign Minister Qureshi said all the political parties of Pakistan were united on the Kashmir issue.