Azad Kashmir: Civil Society, Democracy and Empowerment
By Shams Rehman
Last week a very important conference organized by the ‘Kashmir Peace, Development and Reforms Centre’ (KPDRC) was held in Islamabad. The purpose was to look into one of the most crucial reform that could make the ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’ (AJK) government more autonomous. The participants including leaders of the major ‘election’ parties of AJK consensually demanded for the abolition of Kashmir council and reforming the constitutional status of this part of the divided state of ‘Jammu and Kashmir and Tibet Ha, Aqsai etc.’
It is an established fact that Kashmir Council which enjoys authority over some of the key issues related to Kashmir including tax collection and has a huge budget making it a parallel government. It is also a welcome recognition that constitutionally the AJK assembly needs to be given more powers to be taken seriously at any international forum. However, in my view the reform agenda has to be properly devised and has to include all what is necessary and sufficient for making AJK government autonomous, credible and dignified. This article highlights the layers of control over AJK government and tends to offers the most basic reform agenda for this part of the divided state.
In addition to the Kashmir Council (KC) the AJK government is currently monitored and controlled, and at times, blackmailed by a complex web of the following departments and institutions. Firstly, there is a Ministry of Kashmir Affairs (MKA) that always behaved like ‘East India Company’ in AJK and because of its authority over the AJK government it constantly milks money of the AJK politicians from the point of them becoming candidates through their election to their desire of gaining any ministerial posts. Once the AJK government is elected and apparently out of the hands of MKA it comes across another ‘colonial like’ officer commonly known in AJK as ‘Viceroy’ and that is the Chief Secretary who heads the secretariat consisting of all the secretariats or departments. Being of Pakistani Origin is an essential requirement for this post. He is the actual ruler of ‘Azad’ Kashmir, above the government and cabinet. Even the PM and Presidents of AJK are under him (no woman been appointed to this post as yet).
Then there are other posts which are essentially filled by the officers of Pakistani origin including Auditor General, Finance Secretary, Health Secretary and Inspector General Police. The meaning of these offices to be manned by the people of Pakistani origin means that no Kashmiri ‘State Subject’ is entitled for these posts. This is an open breach of the State Subject legislation. Indeed it was this domination of British Indian lent officers which prompted the State Officers to initiate the State Subject movement over a century ago in the first decade of 20th century. Does this mean that AJK, the so called ‘revolutionary’ government is stuck in the pre State Subject era?
Then there are Pakistani political parties of PPP and Mulsim League and Jamat e Islami etc. These parties, especially PPP levy very high commission on the AJK members for standing in elections, going for ministries and Prime Minister Ship and currently it is also claimed that for appointments and transfers in the administration of AJK large amounts are being charged by the senior leadership of PPP in Pakistan. While Raja Farooq Haider is very vocal in raising these issues and openly and repeatedly declared the AJK constitution ‘a document of slavery’, there also needs to be a clear realization and recognition that the Interim Constitution of 1974 does not only curtails the powers of AJK, it also renders it unrepresentative. This constitution was adopted by the AJK assembly in 1970s under the orders of Zulfiqar Ali Butto and according to Raja farooq Haide, Mr Butto sent his military secretary to have it approved. Therefore, the claim by some AJK leaders that this was approved by the assembly should no longer be valid to defend this unrepresentative and illegal document. I hope that by debating the constitutional status of AJK, the conference participants also meant to take the following clause out of this constitution to make it a properly representative and legitimately democratic document.
“No person or political party in Azad Jammu & Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or determential to, the ideology of the state’s accession to Pakistan”. (Section 7.2)
This is the bare minimum agenda for political reforms in AJK if we want to avoid the clash of growing polarization between those who are part of the current fickle state structure and the excluded and disenchanted young people across AJK.
Alternative is the route which Pakistan adopted in 1953 in Punch and India tried it since 1987 in the Valley. We know the consequences of both and should do our best to avoid any more clashes between occupied and occupiers and find a peaceful and democratic path out of the current narrow nationalistic vision and hegemony of Pakistan on this side and of India on the other side of the division line. Civil Society of course has the major role in defending citizens of the state against the mighty states of India and Pakistan and their puppet structures in Kashmir. However, in my view the civil society needs to have an inclusive and incorporative and engaging approach to involve all those who would like to be involved and not only the privileged few in order to rise above the party and ideological prejudices.
Writer is author of book “Azad Kashmir and British Kashmiri Diaspora: History of Kashmiri Independence Politics and Diaspora identity formation”. Email: email@example.com