April 2004 News

Political Crisis In PoK

1 April 2004
The Daily Excelsior
Samuel Baid

Jammu: In less than three years of its installation in power, the factionriven Muslim Conference Government in Pakistan occupied Kashmir is in a serious crisis. The Government is headed by Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan who was installed as the Prime Minister by the Pakistani Army in July 2001 although he had only nominal support in the party. He was chosen because the Army did not want Sardar Abdul Qayyum or his son Sardar Atiq to head the Government although the party won because of their leadership and majority of legislators were on their side. The Army also stalled the possibility of Atiq fighting for the Presidential election by quickly imposing an Army man as the President of the occupied territory. Maj Gen Mohammed Anwar Khan of Rawalakot was asked to resign his Army job and at once proceed to Muzaffarabad where the Muslim Conference legislators had been ordered to elect him as the President. The Muslim Conference legislators were taken aback but could not defy the order. The Muslim Conference had won 30 of the 48 seats in the State Assembly in July 2001. Of the 30 elected Muslim Conference members, 22 supported Sardar Qayyum and his son Atiq (Atiq is the party President). The reasons for which Sardar Qayyum was kept away from power in occupied Kashmir are interesting. The elections in PoK took place about the time when General Pervez Musharraf was supposed to be talking peace with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Agra. The media in Delhi had totally gone gaga over this visit. But back home General was trying to convince the fundamentalists and his colleagues in the Army and the ISI that he was not for peace with India unless Kashmir was resolved in accordance with Pakistan's wishes. He wanted to keep up the anti-India sentiments to sustain his support base in the country. But Sardar Qayyum's new stand on Kashmir threatened to frustrate General Musharraf's strategy. Qayyum repeatedly praised Prime Minister Vajpayee for his sincerity about resolving the Kashmir. He said this in London and in Muzaffarabad a number of times. He said Mr Vajpayee's visit to Minar-i-Pakistan during his visit to Lahore in February 1999 was a loud evidence of his genuine desire to have peace with Pakistan. He very emphatically condemned the use jehadis in Kashmir. He criticised the pro-Army Jamaat-e-Islami for propelling them into Kashmir. He opposed Pakistan's insistence on involving the Hurriyat Conference in the initial stages of India-Pakistan talks. But since then India-Pak relations have undergone a big change starting from April last year when Mr Vajpayee extended his hand of friendship to Pakistan. Two serious attempts on the life of General Musharraf by jehadis in December last year shook him into revising his jehad-based policy in Kashmir. Then came the SAARC summit in Islamabad in the first week of January this year. On the sidelines of this summit Mr Vajpayee and General Musharraf agreed to resume Indo-Pak peace talks. Thus the state of hostility gave into a strong desire for peace and amity. Apparently, Sardar Atiq took advantage of the changed scenario to once again stake his claim to Prime Ministership of PoK. His support in the Muslim Conference legislator party remained intact. The Army now has not much choice between Prime Minister Sardar Sikandar Hayat and Qayyum and his son Atiq. It has been trying to be neutral between them. It fears that further flare-up in the Muslim Conference intra-party crisis may demoralise Pakistan's supporters in Kashmir especially at a time when they are opposing Lok Sabha elections in the State. The Army has been counselling the two factions to resolve their differences. There are reports that Corps Commander of Rawalpindi Lt Gen Ashfaq Kiyani has told Atiq 'to tolerate the Prime Minister (Hayat) for another four to six months.' If true, it looks Hayat has lost his utility for the Army now. He must quit when the Army tells him to do so. No PoK ruler can dare go against the wishes of the Pakistani establishment. The 1974 Provisional Constitution of PoK is designed to keep Governments in Muzaffarabad under the submission of Islamabad. Section 56 of this Constitution empowers the Establishment in Islamabad to sack a defiant Government. The last it used this power against a defiant Prime Minister in Muzaffarabad was in June 1991. Raja Mumtaz Hussain Rathore of the Pakistan Peoples Party was physically removed from the Prime Minister's post and taken to a Rawalpindi prison for refusing to accept the results of what he called massively rigged elections. Thus, the present Prime Minister Hayat is not expected to squeak a whimper if told by the Army to step down. But the question is : Can the removal of Hayat as the Prime Minister usher in a semblance of political stability in PoK ? Going by the way this occupied territory has been remote-controlled by Pakistan in the past five decades, the answer is : No. The Army always gave most importance to those Muslim Conference leaders who stood for Kashmir's accession to Pakistan as against those who favoured independence. After the occupation of this part of Kashmir which it named 'Azad' Kashmir, the Pakistan Government installed Sardar Ibrahim Khan of the Muslim Conference as its President. Ibrahim was rewarded for blocking the party's move to pass a resolution for independence. That divided the party. Party President Ghulam Abbas, who felt Ibrahim had stabbed the party in the back to please Pakistani rulers, sacked him as the President of PoK. The Rules of Business, which governed PoK, provided that the President could stay in power only during the pleasure of the General Council of the Muslim Conference. Ibrahim reacted by threatening to form a parallel Government. But before he could do that the Pakistan Government took control of the territory. PoK scholars suspected the Pakistan Government intentionally created this rift in the Muslim Conference to bring this territory under its direct control. Sardar Abdul Qayyum benefited from the Ibrahim- Abbas rivalry and emerged as the Muslim Conference leader. Thereafter the party split a number of times but the main faction always remained identified with Qayyum. The rivalry between Prime Minister Hayat and Qayyum and his son Atiq is old. After the June 1991 elections, Qayyum had become the Prime Minister and Hayat the President. The latter had started a campaign against Atiq. He accused him of corruption and of an extra- constitutional centre of power taking advantage of his fathers position as the Prime Minister. These attacks were clearly meant to tarnish the image of Qayyum. The party lost power to the PPP in the 1996 elections. But the hostility between Hayat and Qayyum continued. There is no reason to believe that PoK will have political stability if Hayat quits the P M House.

 

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