Novita Singh On June 26, the people of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir
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(POK) will be forced to go through yet another sham of an election. Unlike previous general elections, this round will see the Muslim League (Nawaz) also in the electoral fray against the traditional rivals, the Muslim Conference
and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Apprehensions of rigging have already been expressed and Prime Minister Gilani has
given a public assurance that the elections will be free, fair and transparent. It is ironic that Pakistani rulers, crying hoarse since 1947 for Kashmiris’ right to self-determination, had denied POK even the right to elect its Legislative Assembly until 1970. Since then, the cabinet in Muzaffarabad has always been a mirror image of the ruling clique in Islamabad. Section 56 of the constitution of
“Azad Kashmir” provides Islamabad the right to dismiss the government of POK, a right which has been exercised regularly and with complete impunity. The first Muslin Conference government, a puppet of the Army’s General Headquarter was, in 1975, replaced by the Zulfikar Bhutto’s PPP when he came into power.
General Zia dissolved the Assembly in 1977 (by invoking Section 56 of the Constitution of Azad Kashmir) after overthrowing Bhutto. Elections were held again in 1985, after a hiatus of eight years, and a Muslim Conference government was established with Sardar Qayyum as President and Sardar Sikander Hayat as Prime Minister. When the next election was held in 1900, Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister and predictably the government in POK was formed by the PPP. Within nine months of this election Benazir was dethroned and so was the POK government to make way for the Muslim Conference once again. In 1996, Benazir Bhutto was back in power and most predictably elections in POK sounded victory for the PPP. In 2001, with Musharraf in power the Muslim Conference, represented yet again by the Sardar-Qayyum-Sardar Sikander duo, came back into power. In 2006, Sardar Qayyum’s son, Sardar Attique, was appointed Prime Minister and a retired Army General, Raja Zulqarnain, became President. President Zardari, became the first Pakistani head of state who was unsuccessful in overthrowing the incumbent government of POK after assuming power. But he managed to create mayhem, by which, three Prime Ministers faced a vote of no confidence in three years. Farooq Haider of the Muslim Conference, in collaboration with the PPP, ousted Sardar Attique in 2009, Sardar Yakub was sworn in as Prime Minister. Nine months later, Sardar Attique and Farooq Haider joined hands to vote out Sardar Yakub. Then
Farooq Haider took on the hot seat till he was shunted out by Sardar Attique through a vote of no-confidence. A study of the pattern leaves not much doubt that a coalition of the Muslim Conference and PPP will form the next government and that it will be as fragile and imbalanced as the one which has recently been dissolved to make way for these sham elections. Politically the situation is no better. Even though the region has its own constitution, its contents are highly prejudicial to sovereign interests. Part 2 of Section 7 of the Constitution states, “No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.” Along similar lines, the oath of office for all office bearers and elected members includes: “That I will remain loyal to the country
and the cause of accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan.” This caveat alone signifies the contempt to which the government of Pakistan holds the demand for plebiscite so close to the hearts of the separatist leaders of J&K. Political dissent in POK is ruthlessly suppressed if not summarily eliminated. The region is not open to media scrutiny because of which not much is known about the plight of the people over there. A 2008 report by UNHCR determined that POK was “Not Free” since individuals and parties not supporting Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan are barred from fighting elections, taking a job with government institutions or accessing education. The budget in POK is prepared by the Federal Minister
for Kashmir and Northern Areas Affairs and is approved by Pakistan’s Head of State, presently Prime Minister Gilani. Natural resources are being plundered with impunity as exemplified by the Mangla dam which will assist in increasing agricultural output, not in POK, but in Punjab. Not only are the abundant natural resources of the region being looted,
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a diabolic plan to change the demographic pattern has been applied with resounding success. Soon the ethnic population will become a minority in its own land. Militant organisations like the United Jihad
Council based in POK wield tremendous influence and the resultant gun culture increases the crime rate etc. The truth of the matter is that Pakistan needs the Kashmiri territory, which is often referred to as its “jugular vein”. On the other hand the state of J&K in India has, since independence, enjoyed a status of complete integration with the Union with elections for the State Legislative Assembly as well as Union Parliament being held regularly. Only recently the Panchayat elections
were held with resounding success, signaling political empowerment at the grass roots level It is time for the international community to pay some attention to the plight of the people of POK. The Pakistani government cannot be allowed to continue holding sham elections to give an impression that all is well. It has to address the aspirations of the people unequivocally, urgently and despite the dispute with India. In this regard the Pakistani government should follow the Indian model for the ultimate benefit of the people whom it professes to represent. Mere statements will not suffice and the Pakistan Government as well as Election Commission of POK should take practical and visible steps to ensure holding of free and fair elections, one sincerely hopes that Prime Minister Gilani will stand by his assurance.
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