Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Elections in Azad Kashmir

Elections in Azad Kashmir
Dr Shabir Choudhry 30 June 2006

A 'drama' in name of elections in Azad Kashmir is in full swing. This region of State of Jammu and Kashmir was at one time known as a 'base camp', to 'liberate' the other Kashmir which was under the 'occupation' of India. Hundreds of candidates are in the field contesting for the Azad Kashmir Assembly which in practice has very little powers.

Candidates in their hundreds are maneuvering to get some political space; and for that there is no principle or moral code which they have not trampled. Some candidates after pleading independence of Jammu and Kashmir for many years, and refusing to sign the clause which asks them to be loyal to Pakistan's ideology have eventually succumbed to the temptation and signed the 'loyalty clause'.

They have done this in order to avoid their papers being rejected under the Act 1974 election regulations. What that means in practice is that they have declared their intention to be more loyal to Pakistan than their own country- Kashmir; and these leaders have done this just to get their papers accepted as candidates. Acceptance of papers DO NOT mean that they are elected as Assembly Members; and some critics argue what these leaders would do if they were offered something more tangible?

This reminds me that Dr Nazir Gilani once said that some of these 'nationalists' are pleading cause of nationalism because they have 'no jobs' or economic stability; and if they have jobs, economic stability and social status they will say good - bye to nationalism. He said APHC leaders and some others, including Syed Ali Gilani have taken part in elections under the Indian constitution. They contested their last elections on the platform of Muslim United Front; and if they had won the elections then they could have been the strongest advocates of Indian case on Kashmir.

In the hullabaloo of elections people are forging new alliances and constantly changing sides clearly indicating that in this game of politics, principles are the first victims; just as truth is the first victim in the theatre of war. Candidates are spending huge amounts of money which is not in lakhs but in crors of rupees, making people wonder where this 'mon o salwa' has come from.

Most candidates have no full time jobs or business; and yet they are spending huge amounts of money to make deals, and ‘buy out’ their opponents. In Pakistani and Azad Kashmiri society people look at apparent social status which is built around financial gains; and not many are concerned about the source of that financial gains; and it is considered 'morally' wrong to question source of income of these 'leaders'.

These leaders are so busy with elections and with 'buying' and 'selling' that goes with such elections, that they have almost abandoned plight of Kashmiris in other regions of the State. They are least concerned with 'liberation' of the 'occupied Kashmir'; it was not their cup of tea even before the elections as this 'task' was handed over to Pakistan in 1949; and role of 'base camp' since that day was to look after the interest of Pakistan and keep people motivated and engaged.

Similarly they are not concerned about plight of people of Gilgit and Baltistan. In fact they have no permission to even talk about plight of their fellow country men living in these areas. Leaders of this 'base camp' in a Karachi Pact of 1949, signed away future of these people, and left them at the mercy of Pakistani bureaucrats. It is unfortunate that those who signed this notorious agreement (The Karachi Pact) on behalf of these people had no legal and moral grounds to do so.

In the enthusiasm of the elections these leaders have even forgotten about the plight of the earthquake victims. Victims of the earthquake, by and large, are still in camps and suffering seriously due to lack of facilities and money; and yet 'our leaders' are spending crors of rupees to 'buy off' their opponents, make deals or to intimidate them. Many thinking people wish if these leaders had shown same kind of conviction and emptied their pockets to help the quake victims.

These elections are nearly two weeks away- to be held on 11th July, and informed quarters already know who will be the next Prime Minister of our 'Azad Kashmir'; and this speaks volumes about our independent status and democracy bestowed to us. One person who is close to these informed quarters confided with me that Sardar Atiq Khan is no longer a 'bad boy' in the eyes of those who decide future set up for Azad Kashmir.

This reminds me that when Sardar Atiq Khan had serious differences with Sardar Sikander Ayat Khan (Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir) and it was widely believed that as a result of resignation of many Ministers and other Assembly Members, Sikander Ayat will lose his ‘job’ and he will be replaced by Sardar Atiq Khan. This was also very confidently confirmed by Sardar Atiq to me during our meeting at his residence.

But when I discussed this with some informed people in Islamabad I was told that this will not happen as Atiq Sahib is not in good books of GCO Murree. Apart from that some other members of the Pakistani establishment were also not happy with him. While talking to one such informed person I said Atiq Sahib is a good friend and he will surely prove to be a better Prime Minister than Sardar Sikander Ayat. He in reply very confidently said that, 'Your friend Atiq Sahib has to get NOC before he ventures for the top job; and that won't happen right now.'

Although there are many candidates but they are not all there to get elected, some are there for fun of it and others are there to bargain their positions for some financial gains. Some of these candidates are not in a position to win but they can influence outcome, so they get offers of handsome packages from both sides.

In the race are three main parties: Muslim Conference, Peoples Party and Peoples Muslim League, and they all claim to form the next government. Informed quarters, however, told me that it is a 'two horse race', with Peoples Party close third. In other words no party will win clear majority.

Sardar Atiq Khan and Barrister Sultan Mahmood will be serious contenders for the top post, as both will try to form the government with help of independent members and smaller parties.

Another analyst said, 'this is the last elections in Azad Kashmir, because before the next elections, we might not see Azad Kashmir as we see it today'. As big decisions are to be taken with regard to the Kashmir dispute we might have some kind of a 'national government' where all the leaders could share responsibility for settlement or compromise on Kashmir.

MB Naqvi, in his article published on 28th June, while discussing Pakistani elections wrote:

'As it happens, any military coup maker can get himself elected in a series of elections with the help of intelligence agencies and the bureaucracy. These agencies are supposed to have perfected a technique in which a ruling junta cannot lose an election, given political backwardness of common voters. In this case, the chief threat of losing the election has been all but taken care of.'

I am sure government of Pakistan and its highly skilful agencies can do the do the trick in Azad Kashmir as well. Before applying these highly sophisticated methods of rigging in Pakistan, they normally try and test them in Azad Kashmir; and therefore they should have no difficulty in getting the desired results.

As both Sultan Mahmood and Sardar Atiq Khan have got NOCs the question is who is the best person for the job? Muslim Conference and its leadership have done tremendous service to Pakistan since 1947, but lately there have been some problems within the party and with Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir. And in view of these problems is it safe to hand over the 'throne' to Sardar Atiq Khan?

Barrister Sultan Mahmood on the other hand appears to be more robust and energetic, but his loyalty is beyond any doubt, so, some officials say, why not ‘hire’ his services, especially when the Mangla dam upraising project is still going on.

Another possibility is to hire services of both leaders- make one president and the other Prime Minister. Azad Kashmir doesn't have to have a retired general in the post of President.

To best of my information a final decision has not been taken yet, although it has been decided that it will be a 'two horse race' and that no party will win a clear majority. So come on 'leaders' you still have chance to prove your credentials.

Writer is Chairman of Diplomatic Committee of JKLF and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email: drshabirchoudhry@hotmail.com

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