Neither Azad Nor Kashmir23 November 2010
Times of India
New Delhi: While emphasising the involvement of Pakistan in any initiative on Jammu & Kashmir, Centre-appointed interlocutors recently expressed a desire to involve the people and leadership of Pakistan-administered J&K (PAJK) in the resolution process. It is an idea that has remained integral to several official as well as civil society initiatives between India and Pakistan. While the Indian side of J&K has hogged international attention for the recent youth unrest, there seems to be a paucity of scholarship and information about the political, ethnic and economic aspects of PAJK. The region known as 'Azad Kashmir' in Pakistan has a population of more than three million and comprises one-third of the erstwhile princely state of J&K. At the world stage, the region has come into focus during the 2005 earthquake or as one of the bases of militant outfits like the Lashkar. However, the region's impact on South Asian politics and even outside has remained a less studied subject of contemporary scholarship, though it has one of the largest South Asian diasporas living in Britain which has played a central role in internationalising the Kashmir issue since the early 1990s. Some sections of the Pakistani and pro-Pakistan PAJK elite have often marketed PAJK as an independent state. PAJK, officially known as 'Azad (independent) Jammu and Kashmir' in Pakistan, has its own Supreme Court, high court, flag and legislative assembly comprising 49 members, of whom 41 are directly elected and eight are nominated by the government. The head of the government in PAJK is known as prime minister and the head of the state is designated as president. In January 2006, Sardar Abdul Qayuum Khan, the former president of PAJK and father of the region's current prime minister, Attique Khan, told me at Muzaffarabad that the struggle of his party, the Muslim Conference, would continue till the Indian side of J&K gets the same degree of political freedom as he enjoyed in his own region. Some of the basic myths about PAJK need to be demolished before discussing the politics of the region. The region is quite distinct from the Kashmir valley and the majority of the people are Pothwari-speaking, which on the Indian side is referred to as Pahari. Except religion, linguistically and ethnically there is hardly anything in common between the Kashmir valley and PAJK. In January 2009, Sardar Attique Khan, the then prime minister of PAJK, blamed the loss of his majority in the legislative assembly on the Pakistani state and remarked that democracy has been slaughtered. More than a year later, Attique Khan is back again as the prime minister of the region. Farooq Haider, the deposed prime minister, accused the Pakistan Peoples Party-led federal government of uniting with his political rivals in the state, which resulted in his resignation. This is the third time in the last four years that the sitting prime minister has lost his majority in the assembly. An objective study will better explain the patron-client relationship between the ruling Pakistani elite and the PAJK political elite. In 1949, the Muslim Conference, one of the political outfits in J&K, was recognised as the permanent representative of PAJK, with powers to strike agreements with the sovereign country of Pakistan. It was seen as a political reward for the Muslim Conference, a political outfit that supported J&K's accession to Pakistan in its July 1947 executive body session at Srinagar. In the political system that existed from 1947 to 1960, the person at the helm of the Muslim Conference was nominated as the president of PAJK. The major constitutional change came in 1970 when adult franchise was introduced to elect the president. In 1974, the parliamentary system was introduced in PAJK. The democratic leadership of Pakistan continued the tradition of military dispensation to bring arbitrary executive changes in the region. In 1990, PAJK prime minister Mumtaz Rathore was 'escorted' to Islamabad in a helicopter and forced to sign a letter of resignation by the Nawaz Sharif government. Moreover, there are visible contradictions between the Pakistani and PAJK constitutions. For instance, Article 257 of the Pakistani constitution holds that the 'people of Jammu and Kashmir will define their relationship with Pakistan after obtaining freedom'. However, under section 5(2)(vii) of the PAJK Legislative Assembly Election Ordinance 1970, 'a person will be disqualified for propagating any opinion or action in any manner prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, the ideology of state's accession to Pakistan or the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan'. The Islamabad-based 'Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council' is headed by the prime minister of Pakistan. This key institutional body shapes the economic policy of the region. The post-1990 phase has opened up space for new political players in the region with demands for democratisation and respect for autonomy of the region's institutions by the federal government. Any developments in this respect will impact Pakistan's Kashmir policy, which has defined the country's overall strategic and tactical calculations since its creation. The understanding of various aspects relating to PAJK, a less studied subject, and other factors in Pakistan is a prerequisite for any constructive and result-oriented dialogue between India and Pakistan. The writer is the author of a book based on field study in Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Jammu & Kashmir.