Row over inviting the Speaker

By K.N. Pandita

Pakistan’s National Assembly speaker declined to extend invitation to the Speaker of J&K Legislative Assembly for participation in the 61st meet of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Union in Islamabad from 30 September to 8 Oct.

Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif’s foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz said his country would never invite a Jammu and Kashmir Speaker as the legislature “does not enjoy legitimate status”.

The Dawn newspaper on Sunday quoted T.C.A. Raghavan, India’s envoy to Pakistan saying at a book release function in Islamabad on Saturday night that Pakistan broke protocol by not inviting the Speaker of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly for a Commonwealth meeting.

Pakistan is hosting the 61st meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Union. Speakers of provincial assemblies of Commonwealth countries are invited to this democratic exercise annually. Of course, these Speakers and their Assemblies are required to fulfill the criterion laid down by the Commonwealth Secretariat for the participants.

Acting as host country, Pakistan NA Speaker is authorized to send letters of invitation to eligible Speakers. However, eligibility norms are not set forth by the inviting agency. Such a thing is outside its jurisdiction in accordance with the norms set forth by the Act that brings Commonwealth of Nations and its branches or subsidiaries into existence.

The CPA was originally founded in 1911 and at present has 53 members. India, along with several other countries joined only at a later stage.

Pakistan and its provinces were active members of CPA till the military coup in 1999 when Gen Pervez Musharraf staged a coup and took over power. However, Pakistan and its provincial assemblies were allowed to rejoin the CPA again in 2004. The CPA Secretariat is located in London and it maintains “close relations” with branches across the globe, and promotes cooperation among them.

According to sources, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Pakistan and the CPA Headquarters Secretariat will host the 61st Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Islamabad between 30 September and 8 October. This year’s theme is ‘Renewing the commitment to pluralism and inclusive democracy in the Commonwealth’, and discussions will also cover general discussions on issues such as religious freedom, parliamentary action on terrorism, the economic impact of gender-based violence, and a debate on the role of the media in political and public life.

The Indian CPA’s position is that Pakistan had invited delegations from Jammu and Kashmir in the past. The CPA unit of Jammu and Kashmir State is “very much a bonafide member of the CPA” asserts India.

Pakistan’s decision of bypassing the Executive Council and the Chairperson of the CPA in the matter of whom to invite and whom to drop is illegal, arbitrary and politically motivated. An arbitrary and politically motivated decision does not go in consonance with the traditions of the parliamentary deliberations. Therefore, by throwing the rules to wind and breaking the protocol Pakistani NA Speaker has forfeited his right to function as the host.

By declaring that “Pakistan would never invite a Jammu and Kashmir Speaker” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz has acknowledged Pakistan’s partisanship while hosting the conference. Therefore, India, and may be some more member countries also, have reservations in Pakistan playing fair as a member and host of the conference.

How will Pakistan react if in a future conference of the same organization, India declines to invite the Speaker of the provincial assembly of Baluchistan on the ground that Baluch annexation was brought about by force of arms in 1947 and ever since Baluchis are fighting their freedom struggle?

As far as the reason for Pakistan to single out the Speaker of J&K Assembly, there are conflicting versions.
According to Pakistani newspaper the Dawn, Sartaj Aziz says “J&K Speaker has no legitimate status”. An elected Speaker of the legislative assembly in a democratic country draws legitimacy of status from the vote of the masses of people and not from any other source inside or outside the country. A handpicked government functionary of a foreign country who has not even contested an election is least qualified to determine the legitimacy of the status of an elected Speaker. (The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, India)

The other version coming from Pakistani sources for declining invitation to J&K Speaker is that “J&K is a disputed State”. Yes, from Indian standpoint J&K is a dispute with Pakistan. It is six and half years’ long dispute. That has not deterred either India or Pakistan from moving onwards, irrespective of the context of dispute, and investing in economic, social and juridical development of respective parts of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan detached and integrated “Northern Areas” into homeland despite the court verdict declaring Northern Areas as part of the J&K State. In moving ahead towards constitutional development of Gilgit and Baltistan, Pakistan constituted the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly and the Council. Election to 24 Assembly seats was held in June this year and a government has been formed. Interestingly, the Chairman of the Legislative Council (upper house) in GB is the Prime Minister of Pakistan and its Vice Chairman is the Governor of Gilgit and Baltistan who, again, is nominated by the Pakistan cabinet.

If this assembly of Gilgit and Bartizan, where nationalists are pitted against Islamabad regime for last six decades, has legitimacy in the eyes of Sartaj Azziz, how come he cannot see legitimacy in the elected assembly of J&K and its Speaker? More than 70 press observers, one third of them foreigners, monitored the last assembly election in J&K.

Another Pakistani source said that Pakistan had “constraints” imposed by Security Council Resolutions on Kashmir in inviting J&K Speaker to CPU meet. Any responsible member of the UN does itself honour by observing the resolutions of its apex body viz. the Security Council. We would have appreciated if Pakistan had done honour to the UN and to itself by implementing the 1948 Resolution of the Security Council on Kashmir, which called upon Pakistan to withdraw all of its troops and fighting men from entire original Kashmir as the pre-requisite for holding plebiscite. UN Resolutions are not for pick and choose.

India is on very firm grounds in this case. Pakistan has forfeited the right to function as the host to the CPU conference owing to its illegal, arbitrary and partisan attitude. As such India should demand shifting of the conference to a new venue in some other Commonwealth member state.

Secondly, by dragging in bilateral politics into the Commonwealth conference and trying to sabotage the declared agenda, Pakistan has lost the trust of being a bonafide member of Commonwealth.

India should move fast to lobby with all other member states scheduled to send their Speakers to the conference to impress upon the Commonwealth headquarters in London to extend invitation to the Speaker of J&K Assembly on its own bypassing Pakistan.

And finally, India, in collaboration with other members of the Commonwealth, should move a resolution in the next Commonwealth meet to expel: Pakistan for attempting to subvert the CPU conference. India can serve a notice to the Commonwealth Secretariat even now before the conference begins.

Lastly, the Government of India cannot be impervious to the unanimous resolution of the Speakers of 31 assemblies who decided to boycott the meeting if J&K Speaker was not invited. It is also important to take the Chairperson and the Executive Committee of CPA on board.

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