People in Pakistani-administered Kashmir or Azad Jammu and Kashmir are going to elect 41 Legislative Assembly members on 21 July 2016 and these lawmakers in turn would vote for the speaker, deputy speaker and Prime Minister. There is a lot of enthusiasm among the political parties both regional and collateral branches of Pakistani political parties, the contenders and their pledged voters. Huge public rallies, inauguration ceremonies for developmental projects, promises and pledges for next five years and above all slogans to liberate Indian held Jammu Kashmir in these public meetings and rallies are echoing aloud. The nomenclature of Azad (Free) Jammu Kashmir is often interpreted as the independent or autonomous government of Kashmiri people enjoying the fundamental political, economic and democratic rights without any subjugation or statutory hindrance. However, the ostensible strata hiding the tangible veracity are so illusory that even the potentates of AJK have uttered their concerns on many instances of mistreatment by both Pakistani civil and military leadership.
The territory of AJK covering roughly 4471 square miles area is historically, linguistically, culturally and by virtue of international law is part of the former State of Jammu and Kashmir. This tiny belt was created during the politically charged and religiously divided state of affairs across Indian Subcontinent in 1947-48. Degraded and segregated socio-political and politico-economic conditions under the despotism of successive feudal regimes in Jammu and Kashmir over decades, consequences of Second World War, rise of socialism centered with powerful Soviet Union, political awareness amongst the inhabitants of colonized countries and regions, a wave of national liberation movements across the globe after the tragic end of WWII, had convinced tangible effects on the structural and political units in Jammu and Kashmir.
On the other hand Indian sub-continent was profoundly divided along religious doctrines and thus violence erupted with the materialization of idea of dividing sub-continent into secular India and Islamic Pakistan. Waves of vehemence instigating from newly created India and Pakistan crossed over Himalayas and grasped Jammu and Kashmir but historically strong secular bonds of Kashmiriyat proved to be dynamic and vibrant in not letting religious violence become a chain reaction in Jammu and Kashmir. Profoundly scrutinizing the political landscape of sub-continent and equaling it with that of Jammu Kashmir Mazdoor Kisaan Conference, a socialist campaign in Jammu and Kashmir presented the idea of Azad (free) Jammu and Kashmir based upon the ideology of secular participatory democracy and socialist economy, having its roots in the traditional shared bonds of Kashmiriyat.
However, after the tribal invasion from Pakistan the political landscape of movement was altered with the revolt in Poonch and surrounding areas. So the tiny stripe of present day Azad Jammu and Kashmir is a by-product or incidental outcome and fusion of socio-political and socio-economic conditions of Jammu and Kashmir along with various other factors like religiously motivated tribal interference in 1947 and it is definitely a replica of the innovative concept of Mazdoor Kisaan Conference.
The present government at Muzaffarabd is a furtherance of the declaration of 24 October 24 1947 although another solid claim of 4 October 1947 by the name of Republic of Kashmir is also present on the print and electronic media of the time. The government established on 24 October 1947 has been working without any real powers since its creation. Few rules of business were framed in order to run the administration of the territory under which the executive as well as the legislative authority vested in the grips of Pakistan. The courts and law codes were enacted in 1948 for running the judicial administration and some laws of former Jammu and Kashmir State were endorsed to remain in process.
Thereafter, in 1952, the rules of business were revised. Limited system of administration as well as the legislation was provided in these rules of business. These rules were revised time and again on several occasions between 1947 and 1960. In the system, which prevailed from 1947 to 1960, the person holding the confidence of the working committee of Muslim Conference was nominated as the president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. For sometimes in the earlier years, the office of Supreme Head also existed who approved the legislation for Azad Jammu and Kashmir, but this office was abolished in 1952 and, thereafter, only the President was the executive head, assisted by some ministers.
However, in 1960, the President was elected through the “votes of basic democrats” with another body known as “Azad Jammu and Kashmir State Council.” Ironically the system of basic democracy was introduced by a dictator (General Ayyub Khan). The major constitutional changes were brought in 1970 when the system of adult franchise was espoused and a semi-democratic setup was introduced in Azad Jammu and Kashmir through Azad Jammu and Kashmir Act, 1970.
For the first time, the Legislative Assembly as well as President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir were elected on the basis of adult franchise by the people of AJK, and the refugees of Jammu and Kashmir settled in Pakistan. The presidential system of government worked for about four years when, in 1974, the parliamentary system was introduced under the AJ&K Interim Constitution Act, 1974. This constitution is still interim even after four decades. Earlier in 1974, the Assembly comprised of 40 members, elected on the basis of adult franchise and two seats were reserved for women, whereas at present there are 41 directly elected members (29 from Azad Kashmir and 12 from refugees settled in Pakistan), 8 indirectly elected members of which 5 are women, one member from religious scholars, while one is from technocrats and other professionals and one representing the overseas Kashmiris. Since 1975, the Prime Minister is elected by the members of Legislative Assembly and acts as the chief executive while the President is the constitutional head.
Azad Jammu and Kashmir had been ruled directly or indirectly till 1970 by unwritten code of conduct by propagating it as a legal entity in accordance with the UNCIP resolutions till the final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir dispute but in reality the territory never enjoyed fundamental freedoms nor the government installed at Muzaffarabad had any representative character to speak on behalf of Kashmiri people. Prior to 1970 an officer from Islamabad with the designation of Joint Secretary was overseeing the affairs of Azad Kashmir with real executive powers and after 1974 with the new name tag of Chief Secretary.
Besides that Kashmir Council, headed by the chief executive of Pakistan is more powerful institution that surpasses the legislative character of assembly and even the executive and constitutional powers of both the Prime Minister and President of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. After introducing the 1974 interim Act, political parties of Pakistan were extended to AJK and political enmity of Pakistani politics was installed in AJK as well. The political parties of AJK are answerable to their party heads in Pakistan instead of people in AJK. Many of those who are in power politics in AJK are heads of their tribes so instead of educating the people along political lines they are mending the tribal identification of medieval ages. Real democratic forces of AJK are barred from participating in the general elections because of the nature of the constitutional restrains imposed in 1974 interim Act.
Under Section 4(7) (2) – “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to, the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan”.
The political activists who challenge and denounce this constitutional handcuff attract the hostile attention of the authorities and in many cases face persecution. The 1974 Interim Act is fundamentally not a constitution rather “a document of slavery” where the authority rests with Islamabad. Out of 56 subjects “Kashmir Council” headed by Chief Executive of Pakistan deals with 52 subjects and it has both the legislative and executive powers. Irony of the fate is that majority of Kashmir Council members are not elected by people of AJK directly or indirectly and they are not Kashmiri nationals as well. Chief Executive of Pakistan recommends these members from his/her cabinet. The 1974 Interim Act verbally promises autonomy with a stipulation that “a person will be disqualified for propagating any opinion or action in any manner prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan or the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan”. In practice, this proviso has meant that real control in AJK is exercised by the government of Pakistan.
Even the oath of the AJK’s President and Prime Minister reads: “As President/Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, I will be loyal to the country (Pakistan) and the cause of accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan” In the oath it is not mentioned that President or Prime Minister will remain loyal to their own territory or people.
The role of Ministry of Kashmir Affairs is not less than the role of viceroys and always has a big say in the internal affairs of Azad Jammu and Kashmir leaving no stone unturned to damage the political role of Muzaffarabad by dictating and controlling them through its illicit functional practices. Although, the nomenclature of AJK government and its structural units depict it as a representative government by having its own flag, legislative assembly, prime minister, president and a supreme court, however, the functional mechanism does not confer any match to the structural norms to prove its legitimacy in light of political theory and practice. The functions have always been performed by the individuals and organizations outside the territory and thus turning the territory as an occupied one instead of Azad (free) and AJK government (structures) as sub-ordinate bodies deprived of performing functions in the best interests of people living in the territory. History has recorded that one of the Chief Justice of AJK Supreme Court had to knock the doors of Supreme Court of Pakistan demanding justice but again the decision was made by the Chief Executive of Pakistan as Chairman of Kashmir Council.
Keeping political criticism aside, there are several genuine issues which need urgent attention. Firstly, Kashmir based political parties and candidates for upcoming elections need to demand their constitutional and territorial rights in accordance with the International Law and per constitution of Pakistan. Constitution of Pakistan, 1973 does not consider AJK as geographical unit of Pakistan.
Secondly and more importantly “the right-to-self-determination” is the title of Kashmiri people and India and Pakistan both have contending claims over the ownership of Jammu and Kashmir. Political workers in AJK need to understand their internationally recognized title and ask the contenders to campaign for their title instead of campaigning for the claims of Pakistan.
In the upcoming elections many of the candidates identified the need to double check the current voters’ lists. Massive irregularities have been reported in these lists predominantly the refugees’ lists, from where 12 members would be elected. Pakistan Muslim League, Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf are the main contenders while Muslim Conference that ruled AJK for more than five decades is taking its last breath and trying to survive under the umbrella of Pakistan Army with an alliance with PTI. For over a decade Karachi based MQM also managed to get two candidates elected in the elections which attracted massive criticism about intimidating measures used by Pakistani politicians to get favorable results.
The upcoming election on refugees’ seats would not be different from the previous ones and is expected to create a lot of concern. These seats are considered as clout in the hands of Islamabad to make sure their acquaintances form a majority in Muzaffarabad. There is quite resemblance in the manifesto of competing parties as many of them are Pakistan based, so the local politicians just follow the directions from their leaders in Pakistan. Even the parliamentary boards awarding party nominations to the candidates are headed by Pakistani politicians instead of local leaders. Political affiliations do not merit on driving the people to polling stations in AJK rather tribal affiliations are considered as the main driving force for the voters to show up at polls. It is all because of the incompetent political leaders who identify themselves as tribal lords instead of practitioners of political philosophy.
This adolescent character of politicians in AJK has divided the ordinary masses further and overall concept of a group of people both on political and social merits could not prevail in the territory. Economy has never been a question in the voting process because there are limited opportunities of economic activities in Azad Kashmir due to the absence of rule of law, fairness and security. Majority of AJK nationals are settled in Europe, Canada and America or selling their labors in the hot deserts of Arab as migrant workers. So the economy of AJK is based upon these migrant workers (with no rights in the lands of Arab) or Kashmiris settled in the West.
However, AJK, has become a profitable market for Pakistani politicians and their cronies at Muzaffarabad because the youth resisting the occupation and unfair treatment was forced to flee the land by shutting the doors of jobs and other economic activities for them due to their political ideologies. There are still popular resistance movements in AJK against the unfair electoral process and unjustifiable political system but these campaigns never got united to make it a single voice.
A New York based International advocacy group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) very rightly concluded in one of its annual report titled “With Friends Like These” published on 20 September 2006 that:
“Azad Kashmir is a legal anomaly. According to United Nations (U.N.) resolutions dating back to 1948, Azad Kashmir is neither a sovereign state nor a province of Pakistan, but rather a “local authority” with responsibility over the area assigned to it under a 1949 ceasefire agreement with India. It has remained in this state of legal limbo since that time. In practice, the Pakistani government in Islamabad, the Pakistani army and the Pakistani intelligence services (Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI) control all aspects of political life in Azad Kashmir-though “Azad” means “free,” the residents of Azad Kashmir are anything but free. Curbs on political pluralism, freedom of expression, and freedom of association; a muzzled press; banned books; arbitrary arrest and detention and torture at the hands of the Pakistani military and the police; and discrimination against refugees from Jammu and Kashmir state. Singled out are Kashmiri nationalists who do not support the idea of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. Anyone who wants to take part in public life has to sign a pledge of loyalty to Pakistan, while anyone who publicly supports or works for an independent Kashmir is persecuted. For those expressing independent or unpopular political views, there is a pervasive fear of Pakistani military and intelligence services-and of militant organizations acting at their behest or independently.”
The political question needs to be asked why politicians in AJK criticize and object when Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi campaign in Srinagar and Jammu for their party branches while their counterparts are welcomed to follow the same suit in AJK? Is there any difference between the political and administrative conditions in Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistani-controlled Jammu and Kashmir? Political hegemony and controversy centers nowhere more acutely than in this question. This is one of those difficult questions upon which it is possible for many sharply opposed views to be held apparently with almost equal weight of reason. Its central difficulty is this, that it is a question which can be answered, if answered at all, only by representatives of AJK government in Muzaffarabad and careful wisdom whose conclusions are based upon the widest possible inductions from the facts of political experience in all its phases. Such wisdom is quite beyond the capacity of political players and actors in the field of politics in the territory. The consequence has been that this question, perhaps more than any other in the whole scope of political analysis of the territory, has provoked greater mistrust among the political scientists of the region. The present day state of affairs in the territory and the nostalgia of chronicle timeline looking at the structural-functional mechanism suggests that the people of the territory must pursue the structural units in Muzaffarabad to be independent enough for performing their functions properly in the best interests of the people of territory.
Nayyar N. Khan is a US based political analyst, human rights and peace activist of Kashmiri origin. His area of concentration is International Peace and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org