Participants at a roundtable discussion on Monday called for a transparent and a more effective autonomous democratic system of governance in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).
Stressing the need for slashing the executive powers enjoyed by the AJK Council under the 1974 act, speakers during the day-long roundtable demanded that an amendment bill be presented before the AJK Legislative Assembly to empower the local government and ensure socio-economic development.
They unanimously called for establishing an independent election commission, holding free and fair elections on Legislative Assembly seats reserved for Jammu and Kashmir migrants, appointment of judges and setting up a judicial commission in AJK.
Highlighting the salient features of a report by Centre for Peace, Development and Reforms (CPDR), titled “An appraisal of constitutional, financial and administrative arrangements between the governments of Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir”, Justice (retd) Basharat Ahmed Sheikh said an amendment in the 1974 act, the interim constitution of AJK, is imperative as it has parlaysed the region’s administration.
The act has encouraged a non-transparent, undemocratic and dualistic system of governance in AJK, he added.
Former chief justice of AJK High Court, Justice (retd) Abdul Majeed Mallick, said that under the interim act of 1974, AJK was neither part of Pakistan nor an independent state.
Flaying the ruling elite, he said that successive governments and the political leadership were responsible for the prevailing confusion in the region. He said that AJK’s rulers try to prove themselves more loyal than the king.
He said that there was a dire need for a committee in the legislative assembly with the mandate to revisit the existing administrative and financial arrangements.
Former president of Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Zulfiqar Abbassi, said that in the next 10 years 200,000 youth would need jobs. He said there was not enough jobs for 10,000 youth in the region’s private or public sector enterprises.
He said that owing to the faulty policies of the AJK government, hundreds of industrial units were lying idle in Mirpur. He also criticised the role of banks, saying these institutions have been collecting huge revenue and foreign exchange rather than investing in the region.
Speaking on the occasion, writer and columnist Ershad Mehmood said there is a consensus among civil society that the existing arrangements between the governments of Pakistan and AJK should be revisited, keeping in view the larger interests of the people of the region.
Mehmood said it was unfortunate that despite having an independent and free media and judiciary in Pakistan, “There has been no change whatsoever in the region.” The conference was hosted by CPDR.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 6th, 2012.