Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Secret deal in Azad Kashmir Elections

Secret deal in Azad Kashmir Elections
Dr Shabir Choudhry 28 July 2006

At last Sardar Attique Khan has made it to the top. He has become Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir. Congratulations. Many people are surprised to his rise, as it was alleged that he was not in good books of those who take decisions about Azad Kashmir.

I, however, had a different view on this. I first met Sardar Attique Khan in a Jang panel in London in mid 1990s, where I had an opportunity to ask him questions as a member of the selected panel. He impressed the audience with his replies and knowledge on the current affairs. At no time he showed any kind of resentment or embarrassment, even when he was challenged and cornered. He was quick to accept his mistake and that won him appreciation of the audience.

Since that day we have met many times, and despite being political and ideological opponents we had friendly relations. My last meeting with him was during my last visit to Azad Kashmir in February 2005. As this meeting took place during visit of JKLF delegation I included summary of this in the book which I wrote about the tour of JKLF. I concluded in the following words:

'I realised that his views on Kashmir were not static, and his vision on Kashmir appeared to be different from other Muslim Conference leaders who are more rigid. He has courage and stamina to face criticism, and politely put forward his views without insulting anyone.'

'Like Omar Abdullah on the other side of the divide, he is also liberal and forward looking leader. Fathers of both these leaders have played a leading but controversial role in their respective parts of Kashmir; and I can visualise these two playing an important role in years to come.' (JKLF visit to Azad Jammu & Kashmir, page 163).

Some would say he has reached his destination, others might say that he has only started his inning. As a Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir he can influence certain things; but might not have any say in other matters because of constraints imposed on him by the Karachi Pact and Act 1974.

What he will do as a Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir at this crucial time and what negative or positive impact it will have on future of Jammu and Kashmir only time will tell. Politics is not a simple subject, and practical politics is more difficult and complicated than the text version of it. In politics, like in international relations, there are no permanent friends or foes.

Politics in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir is more difficult to understand as little attention is given to principles, policies or ideologies. One has to see political maturity or political manoeuvring of Sardar Attique by keeping this fact in mind that before the elections his party, Muslim Conference was split, incumbent President and Prime Minister were against him; GOC Murree and agencies were also not in his favour, and yet he made it.

If there was no split in the Peoples Party then it was clear that Muslim Conference had no chance of winning elections. So the first task was to divide Peoples Party, and this was accomplished without too much problem as personality clash and ego of some leaders weakened the party.

Barrister Sultan Mahmood was assured by powerful people in Pakistan that he will be given the job. He established a new party and formulated a strategy by heavily relying on this assurance. He failed to understand that agencies are no one's friend; they have their own interest and their own game. They reward the right people if they become part of the game, and agree to return this favour in form of cash and submission to their policies. It is believed that in this 'bidding' Barrister Sahib was out manoeuvred by combination of factors.

Emerging political scene of Azad Kashmir assured younger Sardar Sahib that his Party will 'win', but it still didn't mean that he will be the Prime Minister. There were powerful leaders within the party who didn't want him to become the Prime Minister, even though he was President of the Party. Many quarters in Azad Kashmir and in Pakistan thought that he was not 'fit' to become a Prime Minister and that included some powerful members of Pakistani establishment.

Chaudhry Tariq Farooq was influential leader within the party and many thought he was the right person for the post of Prime Minister, and his seat in Bhimber was considered as a 'safe seat'. Nearly all commentators and political activists believed that he would comfortably win; and this meant a serious challenge to Sardar Attique's political ambitions.

A strategy was worked out to take care of this emerging threat; and this shows political astuteness of Sardar Attique Khan. Tariq Farooq was official candidate of Muslim Conference from Bhimber seat where tribalism plays a crucial role. Tariq Farooq and his main political opponent Chaudhary Anwaar belonged to the same tribe, Jat Choudhry.

Raja Zulqarnain a prominent leader of Muslim Conference also belongs to this constituency and was defeated by Tariq Farooq in the last elections. He is highly respected in his tribe and within the constituency. Also he is well connected with the Pakistani establishment.

Task assigned to him was to ensure that Muslim Conference candidate Tariq Farooq DOES NOT win. The strategy worked and Chaudhry Anwaar won the seat mainly because Raja Zulqarnain was fully behind him. It is claimed that Raja Zulqarnain supported Chaudhry Anwaar to 'pay off the political debt' which he owed to his father Chaudhry Suhbat Ali when the latter helped him to win this seat.

There might be some truth in this story, but one wonders why it took him so long to pay off this 'debt'. The real story, however, is that it was a conspiracy if we put it strongly, or political subterfuge, if we put it politely. And the plot was that Raja Zulqarnain would help Sardar Attique Khan that there is no challenge to him; and in return he was assured party nomination for the post of President. Not a bad deal at all.

Raja Zulqarnain openly supported Chaudhry Anwaar against Muslim Conference candidate, Chaudhry Tariq Farooq, and yet no disciplinary action was taken against him. Keeping that in mind I told my friend and TV journalist Anwaar Raja that Raja Zulqarnain is going to be next President, he did not believe me. Of course he had some one else in mind as a President of Azad Kashmir.

Maroof Khan, a Kashmiri journalist present at that time in Venus TV studio, thought the next President of Azad Kashmir would be a woman. In Maroof Khan's view the most likely candidate for this post was the wife of General Aziz Khan. He asserted the idea was to demonstrate that Azad Kashmir is 'advanced liberal and democratic society' in which women folks have equal rights.

Anyhow elections process in Azad Kashmir has ended and this time we were not fortunate enough to have a serving general directly sent from GHQ Rawalpindi to take the post of President. Both President and Prime Minister are politicians with a political track record, and let us hope that they will formulate policies for benefit of the local people; and ensure that there will be no division of the state.

Also I hope that Sardar Attique Khan will try to implement some of the policies discussed with me in our last meeting. Unlike his predecessor Sardar Attiaue Khan has to deal with a President who is a politician and not a general; and I hope that this combination will work for peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute and will promote liberal and democratic values.

Writer is Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at:

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