PPP Chairman Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, who is on an election campaign in Azad Kashmir, has been spewing scathing criticism of the PML-N government, particularly the person of the Prime Minister. For the opposition and its leaders, criticising the sitting government and its policies is quite understandable when supported by substantive facts. But when an issue like Kashmir is involved, they are expected to be more circumspect and responsible while taking umbrage at the government or the Prime Minister which descends into the realm of travesty of truth. In his public rallies referring to the current killings in Kashmir by the Indian forces, he has emphatically been saying that not Kashmir but friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was an important pillar of the foreign policy of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and that it was due to this friendship that he was silent on the Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir. What he has tried to say is that the Prime Minister was least concerned about Kashmir and the plight of its people.

At a time when the entire nation and the political leadership should have spoken with one voice to show solidarity with the people of Kashmir, this irresponsible, naïve and impulsive convulsion by him which is absolutely contrary to the facts, can hardly be condoned by anybody in his right mind. That reflects his political immaturity and incompetence of his advisors in keeping him abreast with the real facts about the issues. That fact is that the Prime Minister has condemned the Indian atrocities in the harshest possible words and convened a special meeting of the cabinet to deliberate on the issue. The government decided to observe 19 July as Black Day and also to raise the issue at the international forums. Our permanent ambassador Maleeha Lodhi addressing the UN General Assembly on 14 July not only sensitized the world body about what was going on in Kashmir but also urged upon it to fulfill its commitments to the people of Kashmir. The government has expressed its firm resolve to continue extending its diplomatic, moral and political support to the struggle of the people of Kashmir. It did everything short of military confrontation with India which in any case is not the feasible option as the grandfather of Bilawal who promised to fight India for thousands years, ultimately realised and signed the Simla Agreement for resolving the Kashmir issue through peaceful means.

The irrefutable reality is that notwithstanding the efforts to build bonhomie with India through the revival of the stalled dialogue and the overtures to make a new beginning, the PML-N government has relentlessly pursued the Kashmir issue with an unswerving commitment at the international level as well as with India. During his visit to US last year, apart from the nuclear issue, the Prime Minister also agitated the Kashmir dispute in his interaction with President Obama, who emphasised the need for dialogue between India and Pakistan for the resolution of disputes between them, including the Kashmir issue. After his meeting with President Obama, while talking to media he stressed the need for a mediatory role by US in view of the bilateral arrangement having failed to deliver the desired results. US probably did not want to annoy India for the sake of its own strategic interests in the region. Nevertheless having extracted acknowledgement of Kashmir being an outstanding dispute from Obama, in itself was one of the pluses of the visit.

In his interaction with the members of the Senate foreign relations committee the Prime Minister emphasised that US was the proper third party for mediation between the two countries. Dilating on the regional security situation in the context of continued Indo-Pak tensions at the United State Institute of Peace (USIP) Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urged the international community to play a role in de-escalating the snow-balling Indo-Pak crisis by dissuading India from belligerent posture towards Pakistan. He reiterated that there was no alternative for India and Pakistan other than resuming a comprehensive dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

Prime Minister’s address to the UN General Assembly on 30th September, particularly the content pertaining to the regional issues was significant from a number of perspectives. For the first time a Pakistani Prime Minister so vehemently advocated Pakistan’s credentials as a front line state against terrorism and itself being a victim of the menace; sensitised the international community on Indian interference and sponsoring of terrorism in Pakistan, the evidence of which reportedly was handed over to the UN Secretary General; enumerated efforts that his government had made for promoting dialogue between the two countries to resolve the disputes between the two nations; dilated on Indian cold response and spurning of the peace initiatives; re-affirmed Pakistan’s abiding resolve to live in peace with India; informed the world community about persistent violations of the LOC and Working boundary; presented Pakistan’s case in regards to the Kashmir issue forcefully; defended consultations with Kashmiris whom he described as an integral part of the dispute and dared to castigate UN for its failure to have its resolutions on Kashmir implemented. More significantly he also gave a visionary four point formula to find a way forward in building bonhomie between the two countries. But regrettably, as expected, India readily rejected the formula. It is noteworthy that in all the interactions between the two countries at different levels, the issue of Kashmir has never been lost sight of and invariably formed part of the deliberations.

All the issues taken up by the Prime Minister in his address one way or the other were connected to the core issue of Kashmir which has bedeviled relations between the two countries. As far as I can recall his discourse on Kashmir was the best ever effort to highlight the issue in its true perspective during the last more than three decades. His four point formula under the prevailing ambience of tensions between the two countries provided a reasonable basis for moving forward and establishing peace in the region.

As is evident from the foregoing facts and contrary to the assertions made by Bilawal, the PML-N government has been the staunchest supporter of the cause of the people of Kashmir and it has not allowed India to put the issue on the back burner, invariably insisting that the comprehensive dialogue between the two countries must include the core issue of Kashmir. As far as personal relations between the two Prime Ministers are concerned, there is nothing wrong with it. Sometimes cordial relations between the heads of governments can also help in nudging the process of rapprochement.