The results of the June 26 legislative assembly elections in Pakistani Kashmir – known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir or AJK – have once again highlighted the near-total Pakistani control of the region. The AJK is part of the wider Jammu & Kashmir state, which is divided between Pakistan and India by a Line of Control (LoC). The AJK, which is known by its short name Azad Kashmir, is supposed to be an independent country and also has the post of prime minister.
Under a United Nations resolution, first Pakistan must vacate AJK, followed by India's reduction of the number of troops in the Indian part of Jammu & Kashmir, and then followed by a plebiscite that requires Kashmiris to decide either to join Pakistan or India. Following the June 26 elections, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) emerged victorious in keeping with the long-term practice that a Pakistani party that rules Pakistan also rules AJK.
Following the election results, Pakistani media reports examined the status of AJK and the extent of Pakistani control of Azad Jammu & Kashmir, a region whose legal and political status remains unclear to international audiences. For example, very few foreign observers know that a Kashmiri cannot contest elections unless he signs a declaration that after winning the polls he will work for the integration of Kashmir into Pakistan – a violation of the UN resolution on Kashmir. This is despite Pakistan's own contention that Azad Jammu & Kashmir is free; "Azad" means "independent."
Below are excerpts from articles published in the Pakistani media examining Pakistan's control of AJK and its political and legal situation. In one article, titled "Elections in Pakistani Colony," Kashmiri writer and political analyst Dr. Shabir Choudhry, who is also head of the Diplomatic Committee of Kashmir National Party, says that following the election results, Choudhry Abdul Majid should be asked to form the government as he is the President of PPP in Pakistani Kashmir, but that he will not be the one to do it; rather, PPP supremo and Pakistani President Asif Zardari may install another PPP leader, Barrister Sultan Mehmood, to rule AJK as the prime minister.
Gibran Peshimam, Part I
"A Majority of (Azad) Kashmiris See the Current Political And Constitutional Status of the Area [in Pakistan] As a Joke"
"They have Pakistani identity cards and passports – but are not quite Pakistani. Their homeland is autonomous, but not quite so. It has a Constitution – but one that is perpetually interim. They have a government and an assembly, but both of which are effectively powerless. It is a land and a people with a past, and perhaps a future – but with no present.
"Welcome to Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK): a virtual no-man's-land, which will go to the polls this Sunday [June 26] – but it is not quite clear what for.
"A majority of (Azad) Kashmiris see the current political and constitutional status of the area as a joke. Most prominent among such residents of this area is Justice (retired) Manzoor Hussain Gillani, a former acting chief justice of AJK and its former chief election commissioner, who calls the current situation a 'paradox."'
"Kashmiris… Cannot Technically Call Themselves Pakistanis – But, By Law, Have to Wait and Swear That, When the Time Comes, They Will Say They Want to Join Pakistan"
"This 'paradox' has led to the systematic disenfranchisement of millions who live not only within its borders, on both sides of the LoC, but those who have migrated due to years and years of being in limbo.
"Sixty-three years on, a UN-backed plebiscite is yet to take place, and AJK has stood in virtual limbo – as far from 'Azad' as can be possible. It is a territory that has been forced into a comatose state of identitylessness.
"Given that Pakistan does not want to 'harm' its claim over the rest of 'occupied Kashmir' by recognizing the LoC as a legitimate border (which it does not, to date), AJK has been governed by all sorts of strange and painfully euphemistic laws and acts. Azad Kashmiris, even those who want to join their land with Pakistan, cannot technically call themselves Pakistanis – but, by law, have to wait and swear that, when the time comes, they will say they want to join Pakistan.
"Unlike other 'autonomous' areas under the purview of Pakistan, such as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), AJK is not even mentioned in the Constitution of Pakistan.
"It is referred to in Article 1 (2) (d) as 'such states and territories as are or may be included in Pakistan, whether by accession or otherwise…"'
"Kashmir's Constitutional System Also has What Is Called 'The AJK Council' – Which is Effectively the Supreme Body of the Land; But… It Is the Pakistani Prime Minister Who Exercises the Executive Power of the Council"
"The AJK government
"For now, AJK is governed by an amended version of the Interim Constitution Act of Azad Jammu and Kashmir 1974. Under this Act, AJK is a parliamentary democracy, with the prime minister as the head of the government. It also has its own judicial system, with a High Court and a Supreme Court of AJK. Muzaffarabad is the capital of AJK and the seat of power.
"It has a 49-seat Assembly, with 41 members elected directly – 29 by AJK residents and 12 by 'Kashmiri Diaspora' across Pakistan. Five seats are reserved for women, one for… Ulema [Islamic scholar], one for a technocrat and one for an overseas Kashmiri.
"But the powers of the government and its legislative domain are next to negligible. One political activist, Afzal Solehria, described its powers as those of a 'municipality.'
"The real power lies above.
"Kashmir's constitutional system also has what is called 'The AJK Council' – which is effectively the supreme body of the land. The 14-member body controls almost all domains of legislation under the 'Council Legislative List'…
"Strangely enough, its chairman is the Prime Minister – not of AJK, but of Pakistan. He elects five other members, who are sitting Parliamentarians of Pakistan. Other members include the President and Prime Minister of AJK, and six other indirectly elected members who are chosen by the AJK legislative assembly.
"But, at the end, it is the Pakistani prime minister who exercises the executive power of the Council…"
"The Interim Constitution Act 1974 is Loaded with Sweeping Disclaimer Clauses; The Executive Authority of the Government [in Pakistani Kashmir is required]… Not to Impede or Prejudice the Responsibilities of the Government of Pakistan"
"Limits of the AJK government
"The Interim Constitution Act 1974 is loaded with sweeping disclaimer clauses, such as Article 19: '(2) The executive authority of the government [of AJK] shall be so exercised as: (a) not to impede or prejudice the responsibilities of the Government of Pakistan; (b) to secure compliance with the laws made by the [AJK] Council.'
"Also, because it is not a province, it does not have any intrinsic right to a share of revenue from Islamabad – even from massive power projects, such as Mangla Dam, that are set up on its territory by Pakistan. Justice Gillani points out that AJK is subject to all the liabilities (and more) of provinces, but has no rights and privileges.
"The double-whammy is that the AJK cannot set up its own power projects, because it is not in the government's domain. To rub salt on its wounds, AJK's most important bureaucratic positions – the chief secretary, chief secretary (development), inspector general of police, accountant general, finance secretary and even the health secretary – are held by bureaucrats directly appointed by Pakistan..."
Gibran Peshimam, Part II
"[All Elections Candidates Must Sign a Declaration:] 'I Solemnly Declare That I Believe in the Ideology of Pakistan, the Ideology of [Kashmiri] State's Accession to Pakistan, and the Integrity and Sovereignty of Pakistan'"
"A sweeping declaration, locally referred to simply as 'The Shik' (The clause), must be signed by all electoral candidates in the AJK, which demands their allegiance to Islamabad. However, according to the region's best known and widely-respected jurist, Justice (retired) Manzoor Hussain Gillani, a former acting chief justice of AJK and its former chief election commissioner, 'the clause' is totally against the UN resolution.
"Even though the retired justice is in favor of the unification of Kashmir and merger with Pakistan, he, on his part, maintains that the spirit of choice is clearly undermined by 'the clause,' even if the choice to be made would be in favor of Pakistan.
"All interviews conducted with the bureaucracy and political leaders suggest the same: It is in contravention of the UN resolution. Of course, they won't come on the record to state it – no matter how many cups of tea you have with them.
"Leaving aside the rhetoric of self-determination historically raised by Islamabad, there is an anomaly, to put it mildly, in AJK's laws – one that not only causes resentment in AJK, but is also effectively in contravention to a United Resolution on Jammu and Kashmir that gives its population the right to choose between India and Pakistan.
"While AJK now has its 'own' elected legislature, however impotent, candidates applying to run are made to sign the declaration beforehand. It reads: 'I solemnly declare that I believe in the Ideology of Pakistan, the Ideology of State's Accession to Pakistan and the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan."'
"The Oath of Office Given to Successful Candidates in [Pakistani Kashmir Is:] 'I will Remain Loyal to the Country [Pakistan] and To the Cause of Accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan"
"Under the 1948 UN resolution, accepted by both India and Pakistan, the people of Jammu and Kashmir (India- and Pakistan-administered) are mandated to decide which way they want their state to accede to through a plebiscite.
"Though the plebiscite is yet to happen despite the passage of 63 years, on its own, the UN resolution is widely perceived to be favoring Pakistan, the general notion being that, given that a majority of the people are Muslim, they would want to accede to Pakistan – since there is no provision to choose independence or self-determination.
"But the notion is unanimous: Pakistan is effectively sabotaging its own claim over the entire Jammu and Kashmir, both amongst its local supporters and in the UN. In fact, to not mince words, the clause is, effectively, illegal. There are many elements in AJK that refuse to take part in elections based on 'the clause,' according to officials of the AJK election commission. If you don't sign the 'the clause,' your application is invalidated and is not accepted.
"Their disqualification means that a political process already short on credibility, which results in a toothless representation of Azad Kashmiris, is even more undermined, given that it does not represent all voices of AJK. The ones who do willingly sign, and get elected to represent the people of AJK, are viewed as compromised.
"For this election, some small pro-freedom parties have decided that they will end the boycott and contest the elections under one banner – the National Democratic Alliance. They say that they have signed 'the clause,' but in protest (Just to put the point across, some have literally written that on the declaration form filed with their nomination papers).
"They will contest some 18 seats – and are not expected to make too great a splash, given that the major entities are still staying away. But it's a change in trend. Of course, if they do make it to the assembly, there will be another hurdle.
"The oath of office given to successful candidates in AJK, which is also taken by the president, prime minister, ministers, assembly speaker and advisors? “I will remain loyal to the Country [Pakistan] and to the cause of accession of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan."
Dr. Shabir Choudhry: "Elections in Pakistani Colony"
"Choudhry Abdul Majid is the President of PPP Azad Kashmir And Should have Been Asked to Form the Government; Insiders Claim that Barrister Sultan Mehmood will Be the Next Prime Minister"
"In a parliamentary form of government a party that gets majority forms the next government; and the party leader becomes a Prime Minister. This happens in every democratic and civilized country. However, rules in a Pakistani-occupied territory known as Azad Kashmir (independent Kashmir) are different.
"The PPP [Pakistan People's Party] emerged as the winner in the elections. It was expected, as always is the case, a ruling party in Islamabad gets the desired results in Azad Kashmir to suit its needs. Barrister Sultan Mehmood, former Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir and a leader of the PPP, was interviewed by a Pakistani TV. He happily claimed to have got the majority to form the government. The TV journalist asked him who is going to be the Prime Minister. Barrister Sultan Mehmood with a fake smile on his face said: '[Pakistani President Asif] Zardari Sahib will decide who is going to be the Prime Minister' (of Azad Kashmir).
"People who know how the system works and how posts are awarded, especially the post of the Prime Minister, claim that the man with a big purse will be the Prime Minister. Choudhry Abdul Majid is the President of PPP Azad Kashmir and should have been asked to form the government. However, that won't happen, as he is not that rich. Choudhry Yasin and Barrister Sultan Majid are strong candidates for the post of Prime Minister; and insiders claim that Barrister Sultan Mehmood will be the next prime minister."
"All Major Decisions, Including Who Will Get Promotions and What Projects Should Be Initiated, are Taken in Meetings of the Kashmir Council – Which is Chaired By the Prime Minister of Pakistan and Controlled By the Pakistanis"
"That sums up the level of azadi or independence this territory and its leaders have. Who is Zardari? He is a man accused of being 10% because of many corruption scandals, Surrey Palace, Swiss accounts, etc. He has imposed a dictatorship in his own party and has virtually ruined it. Many even accuse this man of the murder of his wife [Benazir Bhutto] as well. Oh yes, he is also a President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan – perhaps, ideal candidate for the post according to political standards of Pakistan…"
"How unfortunate that in this territory – Azad Kashmir – who will be our Assembly Member is decided by 'masters' in Islamabad. These 'masters' are in the form of Asif Ali Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, and other heads of Pakistani parties which dominate the politics of this unfortunate territory. Apart from that, Minister of Kashmir Affairs, top four Pakistani officials – Chief Secretary, Inspector General of Police, Finance Secretary and Accountant General run and control Azad Kashmir. The final say, as always, is with the secret agencies and Pakistani army general…"
"Furthermore, all major decisions, including who will get promotions and what projects should be initiated, are taken in meetings of the Kashmir Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister of Pakistan and controlled by the Pakistanis who have numerical majority there as well…"
"This is state of affairs in Azad Kashmir, and this is how politics works in this part of the world. Despite the above situation, people in Pakistan and in some parts of Jammu & Kashmir like to call this territory Azad or independent Kashmir – a model state which the Pakistani elite think should encourage the remaining parts of Jammu & Kashmir to join it; and ultimately merge with Islamic Republic of Pakistan…"