I will prefer to be a Pakistani Identity card holder than to be a voter of Azad Kashmir. I am Pakistani first then Kashmiri and my vote application cannot be rejected on the basis that Pakistani Identity card is a Pakistani document.
This is my translation of headlines of an Azad Jammu and Kashmir (as it is known officially) newspaper ‘Sada e Chinar’ from the reporting of a press conference by Sardar Khalid Ibrahim, the head of Jammu Kashmir Peoples Party (JKPP). One of the senior most AJK leader called this conference to protest against the rejection of his application for vote registration in the forthcoming elections. The AJK Election Commission rejected Sardar Khalid Ibrahim’s application for failing to provide permanent address in AJK which is a mandatory requirement for registering as a voter in the elections. The election commissioner also clarified that the Pakistani identity card on its own was not sufficient for vote registration as it does not prove that the holder was a AJK State Subject.
Khalid Ibrahim is the son of Sardar Ibrahim Khan, who was instrumental in setting up the ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir Government’ on 4 October 1947 and was its first Prime Minister with GN Gilkar as the President and was appointed president when that government was reorganised on 24 October 1947. Currently, Khalid Ibrahim heads the Jammu Kashmir Peoples Party (JKPP) which was deliberately kept different and distinct from ‘Pakistan People’s Party’ PPP (AJK) to defend the distinct status and identity of this part of the divided state of Kashmir against the onslaught of Bhutto’s People’s Party in 1970s. Therefore, the above headlines that I’m first Pakistani and then Kashmiri seems a major shift in his politics.
Criticizing the Election Commission’s decision, Khalid Ibrahim pointed out that he has been a voter since 1970 and previously participated in several elections without a permanent address in AJK, that he has on his domicile that can be checked.
The current election rules of AJK require Pakistani Identity card and a permanent address in AJK to process an application for vote registration.
If we look at this issue from legal perspective first question comes to mind is that have there been any amendments in the registration rules? If not, then it seems that acceptance of Khalid’s application in the past was against the rules. Since he contested several elections and few times ended up in the assembly therefore the legality of his participation in election and assembly membership also appears questionable. However, if the rules have been amended recently then he has to abide by these rules like every other voter of AJK unless he has some legal grounds to challenge the decision which of course he is entitled to do as per procedures.
It is not clear from the reporting of press conference that if Khalid Ibrahim is saying that any Pakistani should be allowed to vote and participate in the AJK elections? However, he does refer to the State Subject and Domicile as well with regards to checking his address in AJK and him being a citizen of the state. Is he then asking that regardless of where you are resided you should be allowed to vote and contest AJK election provided you have documentary evidence of being a State Subject? This is also not clarified from the reporting of the press conference.
The most absurd aspect of his press conference that motivated me to write about it is his claim that “I would prefer the Pakistani identity card over the right to vote in AJK and that Pakistani ID card is not a Pakistani document.” So, is it a Kashmiri document then? Of course he is not saying that. What he is apparently saying is that it is also an AJK document and should be accepted as such. That, I think, is crust of the matter. And this is not the first time that Khalid Ibrahim has tried to raise the head from the crowd of ‘whiter than white’ AJK politicians to be noticed by the power brokers in this part of the divided Kashmir.
If we browse through the newspapers of past few weeks there appears a pattern in the political behavior of Sardar Khalid Ibrahim which is triggered by the mention of independence of Kashmir or autonomy of AJK. First, he walked away from the funeral of Amanullah Khan stating that speakers were making political speeches, which of course were lauding and praising the idea and politics of independent Kashmir of which late Amanullah Khan was a product and a prominent player. Then last week Khalid Ibrahim disrupted a seminar in Islamabad, organised by the Jammu Kashmir Peoples National Party (JKPNP) to discuss the constitution of AJK where Malik Majid, a former chief justice of AJK and head of Jammu Kashmir Liberation League (JKLL) argued that what we have in AJK does not even qualify to be called a constitution.
Saradar Khalid Ibrahim interrupted saying, “You took oath on the same constitution in the past.” It is of course true but was that the point of this conference? According to the report he was walking out but sat back when Malik Majid said yes that’s the right thing to do please go. And now this. What next? Is he going to change the name of his party from JKPP to PPP or does he want to take over PPP? Or these little knee jerk ‘walk outs’ are a precursor to the big walk out of politics?
It is up to the journalists of AJK to ask Khalid Ibrahim to clarify. What I aim to highlight here is that the actual issue for AJK people right now is to challenge the imposition of Pakistani Identity card on Kashmiris. Azad Jammu and Kashmir is not a legal or constitutional part of Pakistan. As per the UN resolutions it is to be administered by Pakistan through the government of AJK. Since the future status of this and other parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (including Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Baltsitan and Gilgit) is yet to be determined, it is the responsibility of Pakistan on this side and of India on other side to ‘administer’ the currency, defence and foreign affairs. Any of the administrative powers have no right whatsoever to erode the autonomy or identity of Kashmiris rooted in the State Subject which defines Kashmiris different and away from Pakistanis and Indians. (And of course the resources of the state in its entirety).
As per the compulsory requirements for the registration as a voter and contesting elections, I think anyone with verifiable state subject should be eligible to participate in AJK election regardless of the settlement or residence. (An insertion should also be made in the relevant section ‘regardless of their political ideology’.) That is what the politicians of AJK should be demanding and the pro-unification and independence ideology Kashmiris should be campaigning for. As for the Pakistani Identity card it should be required only for the affairs of Kashmiris in Pakistan and should have nothing to do with the Kashmir affairs inside AJK including elections. Kashmiris in and from Pakistan administered areas of Kashmir including diaspora should be issued with State Subjects by their governments as the Pakistani identity card is exactly that – a Pakistani document.