Thursday, 29 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 practise has very little powers.

Candidates in their hundreds are manoeuvring 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 practise 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 tangible?

This reminds me that Dr Nazir Gilani 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 no one is 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 mandate 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.

The twin crises

M B Naqvi

The writer is a veteran journalist and freelance columnist.

The Musharraf regime is facing a serious crisis. It has to organise the two elections between October 2007 to February 2008: one national general election and another to the office of the president. Postponing is no real option. The world is looking forward to these elections. It wants to know whether these will be transparently free or will be manufactured through the intervention of state agencies -- at different stages.

The difficulties that President Pervez Musharraf faces are obvious. He has to win this election no matter how; he can't afford to lose. Therefore it will be necessary to watch how does the government machinery -- bureaucracy, intelligence services and others -- behave. If a grand victory of the present ruling coalition is announced, it will be received with dismay and derision. People would say the results have been manufactured because the regime had no option but to remain in power; it is an existential crisis for the rulers.

One complication is that the president is not merely the president but is the army chief as well. As a serving soldier, he has no business to be in politics. But there he is and has a number of political parties and politicians supporting him who think that he is popular and Pakistanis cannot do without him whether he dons or doffs the army uniform. If he loses either election, all hell will break loose. The whole political system he has built will collapse in a matter of hours. That will not be good for his safety and security. He has, therefore, to win, no matter how.

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. This is common knowledge and is a major factor favouring the regime's survival. Anyone believing in transparently free elections will never certify Pakistan's bureaucracy-managed elections. It is actually wrong to pinpoint only the intelligence agencies. Behind them stands the whole phalanx of the civilian administration. All state resources are at the disposal of those who have to win. Basic wheeling and dealing is arranged long before the votes are cast. Each district has several vote banks and the leaders of each vote bank are ever ready to make adjustments with powers that be, specifying who will get what if they vote for the king's party.

When elections come near, various political groups, important in districts and specific regions, start changing their loyalties. They join either the PPP, PML-N or ANP or whatever, as additional aid to their own abilities to take votes. That process seems to have begun already. Major parties as well as agencies compete and it stands to reason that promises the agencies make will carry greater weight. Which cynical vote bank leader will opt for the opposition if there is the king's own promise of a reward? The uniform plays no part in the wheeling dealing. This is a regular phenomenon from election to election. The regime is said to be well placed to win the next election, warts and all.

It is now time to examine as to what the regime has achieved, the supposed criteria for the voters. It is clear that it has magnified and intensified the ideological hatred between the believers in Islamic Ideology and in other systems of governance. At least some areas in FATA have now become a Taliban territory so to say. This means electorally their representatives -- the MMA -- are well placed in NWFP given the affinities between Taliban and the common Pushtuns.

The government is supposedly against the Taliban. It is supposed to be secular and would have no truck with Taliban. And yet Taliban have been all over the place in FATA's various agencies and also in other areas outside the tribal belt. They are organising the institutions of grassroots governance and are trying to dispense rough and ready justice. The reason for being maladroit was that Islamabad had no clue as to how it should operate in a rapidly changing political and ideological situation in the area. They have made the Taliban extremely popular in many adjoining parts of NWFP that adjoin the tribal areas.

Two separate wars are going on in NWFP. There is one between the Taliban ideology and Islamabad's supposed secular Pakistani nationalism and 'modern moderate Islam'. The writ of the Taliban in many areas of FATA agencies is as effective as that of the army. Political beliefs in much of the NWFP can scarcely be different from those of Islamic clerics and the various religious extremists there being few others in the field. Secondly, Taliban are engaged in a physical war in Afghanistan. They want to conquer much of Afghanistan and re-establish their caliphate. Whether it can be done or is unlikely to succeed is another matter. But Islamabad's efforts have given a fillip to religious obscurantism throughout the NWFP.

In Balochistan also two separate wars are going on. One is between Taliban and Karzai's Afghan soldiers, now led by NATO forces, in parallel with FATA's. Threat to Kabul from Taliban cannot be minimised. Some of the Afghan areas in point of fact are under practical Taliban control, though it shifts from time to time and place to place. Like elsewhere, when NATO forces come the Taliban disappear. When the former has gone, the Talibs reappear. So the game goes on. This is one fight that cannot be ignored for its implications.

There is another war going on and the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is waging it against Islamabad. The BLA has been launching attacks on security forces in different areas and is also strong in some parts where the writ of the government runs in the daytime or only when the troops are there. The BLA is said to be a small, largely disorganised force that believes in Baloch nationalism and in winning the Baloch rights from the Punjabi-dominated central government. It is an openly anti-centre force and wants to reorganise Pakistan on the basis of nationalities ruling their own areas and the central government being content with a smaller sphere of action for promoting common causes.

Big or small, the BLA claims to comprise committed political groups spread throughout Balochistan's purely Baloch areas. They say they are staunch nationalists and want to protect the resources of Balochistan for the benefit of the people of the province. The current exploitation of Balochistan's resources is seen to be for the benefit of the Punjab-dominated central government and elites of the major cities.

The issues having been framed, few can now ignore what the Baloch nationalists want. The question is what will the centre decide: will it concede something substantive by way of reserving Balochistan's resources for the benefit of Balochistan itself? It is a major issue that will indirectly determine whether the election can be accepted as genuine insofar as Balochistan is concerned. It is issues like these, and one has not mentioned the changing world scene, that makes 2007 polls crucial: another 2002 and some sort of catastrophe will follow.


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