WHETHER it was a faux pas or stemmed from ignorance, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s statement that Azad Jammu & Kashmir is part of Pakistan should jolt the old hands at the Foreign Office, for it repudiates the very basis of Islamabad’s political, legal and moral stand on the more than six-decade-old dispute. Pakistan’s position since 1947, when India occupied the princely state, has been that Kashmir is not real estate, that neither Pakistan nor India has a right to it and that it is the people who should decide by a vote what country they consider to be their own. This Pakistani position was recognised by the United Nations through various resolutions and accepted by colonial and Indian leaders, including governor general Lord Mountbatten, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and New Delhi’s representatives at the world body. That Mr Dar should know so little about foreign affairs is rather surprising. Referring to the Indian objections to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through Gilgit-Baltistan, which is a part of the larger Kashmir dispute, the finance minister said, “What disputed territory? Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu & Kashmir are part of Pakistan.”
GB, whose legal status remains in limbo, and AJK are part of the larger dispute that has been pending with the UN. But what Mr Dar failed to mention was that looking after GB’s administration and economic development will remain Islamabad’s responsibility until the Kashmir issue is finally resolved. His ill-informed claim, therefore, that they are part of Pakistan underlines a regrettable truth: the cabinet does not function as a cohesive policymaking body, and Nawaz Sharif’s retention of the foreign minister’s portfolio has caused enormous confusion in the conduct of foreign policy. Odd as it is, there has been no government clarification, not even the usual claims of having been misquoted. That a federal minister should exhibit such disregard towards a sensitive foreign policy issue reflects adversely on the quality of the leadership. It is not too late to have a fulltime foreign minister.
Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2015