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ISLAMABAD: A joint-sitting of the Parliament on Thursday passed "The Mutual Legal Assistance (Criminal Matters) Bill, 2020" amid a strong protest from the opposition members of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) to fulfill certain conditions as listed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

Major opposition parties Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People's Party (PPP) withdrew their proposed amendments to the bill after developing consensus with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government.

However, the PPP and the PML-N members did not support the bill.

Federal Minister for Interior Ijaz Ahmad Shah tabled the bill in the joint house of the parliament, which was not passed by the Senate within 90 days.

The joint sitting of the Parliament passed the bill with amendments in various clauses of the bill presented by Federal Minister for Law Farogh Naseem.

The opposition members of the JUI-F, the JI and the PkMAP strongly opposed the bill and protested against it.

According to Objects and Reasons of the "The Mutual Legal Assistance (Criminal Matters) Bill, 2020", "Increase in transnational organized crime has made it imperative for the international community including Islamic Republic of Pakistan to improve effectiveness of legal instruments. Lack of uniformity in law and weak coordination mechanisms between countries affect combating of crime across borders. In order to overcome these challenges lega1 cover is essentially required.

"International cooperation in criminal matters through mutual legal assistance is intended to bridge existing gaps in respective countries towards effective law enforcement. The requested state will provide legal support to the requesting state by executing necessary actions on its territory in criminal cases warranting shared assistance."

Speaking in the house after the passage of this bill, Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif registered his protest as leaders of the opposition parties including those of JI, JUI-F and PkMAP were not allowed to speak before the Mutual Legal Assistance (Criminal Matters) Bill 2020 was presented in the House.

He also criticised the policies of the federal government regarding Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK).

"The federal government's Kashmir policy is just a jugglery of words coated with emotional rhetoric and high sounding speeches like the one delivered by foreign minister," Sharif said.

He said, "The federal government is taking cosmetic measures. Such initiatives will not help highlight the Kashmir cause in letter and spirit. Verbal rhetoric and tall statements are not needed; we have heard enough of this stuff. Now practical actions are needed to highlight the Kashmir cause and to prove that we are actually standing with the helpless people of Kashmir who are facing unprecedented tyranny, brutality and oppression meted out to them by the extremist government of India."

Impliedly referring to the offer made last year by President of the United States Donald Trump to mediate between Pakistan and India over Kashmir dispute, Sharif said, "The foreign minister proudly announced not only once but twice that the president of a very big country offered meditation between Pakistan and India on Kashmir, where has this mediation offer gone now? Why is the foreign minister and his government silent on this?"

The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly also criticised the foreign minister for not "properly inviting" him, and Chairman Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto-Zardai to the activities that were planned earlier on Tuesday (August 4) in support of people of the IOK.

Responding to Sharif's criticism, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said:

"The Kashmir issue did not surface on August 5, 2019. The question is, your government remained in power thrice, what did you [Shebaz Sharif] do to highlight the Kashmir cause?"

The foreign minister denied that the federal government's policy on Kashmir was a jugglery of words.

"Our stance on Kashmir is a reflection of the sentiments of each and every Pakistani and Kashmiri," he said.

The minister said the present federal government under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan highlighted Kashmir on powerful international forums the way it was not highlighted before.

"It is our government that honoured veteran Kashmiri leader Syed Ali Gillani and awarded him Nishan-e-Pakistan unlike your government that did nothing to acknowledge the sacrifices of the IOK leadership," he said, while addressing Sharif.

"Even seasoned Indian leaders like former foreign minister Chidambaram and Yashwant Sinha are criticizing the policies of Narendra Modi," he said.

Qureshi said the US president's offer regarding mediation between India and Pakistan on Kashmir could not be materialized due to the reluctance of India.

"India is not ready to accept third party facilitation on Kashmir issue. In this scenario, is there any chance of mediation by any country?" he said

The foreign minister said he sent out written invitations to Sharif and Bilawal regarding August 4 activities to highlight Kashmir issue.

"What else is a "proper invitation"?

"I have told the leader of the opposition, if he wants to be briefed on Kashmir issue, we are ready to welcome him at the Foreign Office. If he wants, I am ready to visit him at his chamber. We will take everyone into the loop as far as the Kashmir issue is concerned. It is a symbol of national unity."

Bilawal also criticised the policies of the federal government.

"By renaming Kashmir Highway as Srinagar Highway, observing a minute's silence and including the IOK in Pakistan's map, if we think that we are responding to what India did to the IOK on August 5, 2019, we are totally mistaken."

He said Prime Minister Imran Khan announced to hold activities on every Friday in support of Kashmir cause.

"Where have all those activities gone? The prime minister could not continue even with his cosmetic activities to highlight the Kashmir cause let alone doing anything practical."

Bilawal said adding that effective diplomacy was needed to effectively respond to India at various international forums.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020