Considering that Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) enjoys only limited freedom in the administration of its affairs, parliamentarians and constitutional experts from Pakistan-administered Kashmir have sought amendments to the interim constitution of the Himalayan state.
“Differences of opinion between Islamabad and Muzaffarabad hinder the introduction of constitutional amendments in AJK’s constitution,” according to former speaker of the AJK Legislative Assembly Ghulam Qadir.
Former AJK prime minister Sardar Yaqoob Khan had requested Pakistani premier Yousaf Raza Gilani, chairman of the AJK Council to form a committee comprising prominent political parties of AJK to devise a plan to introduce amendments in the 1974 Act, the interim constitution of AJK, he said.
The proposal was not accepted by the prime minister of Pakistan, who has the power to form the requisite committee as chairman of the AJK Council, upper house of AJK parliament.
Replying to a question, Qadir said major amendments in the interim constitution of AJK should include an increase in the share of taxes collected from the state to 95 per cent from the current 80 per cent.
The AJK Council should transfer all the money to the AJK government for public welfare projects in the state.
The council presently deduct 20 per cent of the total taxes collected in various forms for administrative costs – which are considered to be abnormally high.
Political analyst Ershad Mahmud said that the AJK Council is vested with the power to appoint the senior judiciary, chief election commissioner along with 52 other items.
“A mechanism should be evolved in consultation with elected representatives of AJK legislative assembly to empower the state government to address issues related to its people,” Mahmud added.
Talking to The Express Tribune, he said since the Pakistan government has devolved powers to the provinces through the 18th amendment, autonomy should also be extended to AJK to ensure better governance.
“This will enable the state government to evolve a strategy for socio-economic development.”
He was of the view that the AJK Council should basically coordinate between the governments of Pakistan and AJK, while transferring its powers to the AJK legislative assembly for better governance.
Commenting on the issue, constitutional expert Waqas Ali Kausar observed that a stable relationship is only possible if there is even-sided distribution of legislative and executive powers between Islamabad and Muzaffarabad would be in the long-term interest of Pakistan.
“The current government should focus on accountability and transparency in order to promote good governance, he added.” Governments in the past have had a very poor track record of ensuring transparency and service delivery in AJK.
“Moreover, elected governments in AJK have not been able to make progress in areas other than those which fall within the domain of the AJK Council.
Kausar urged civil society in the state to play a more pro-active role for ensuring better governance and for socio-economic uplift of AJK.
PML-N AJK President Farooq Haider Khan had also called for immediate amendments in the interim constitution of AJK for empowerment of its people and for the resolution of their issues at a press conference last week.
Leader of opposition in AJK Legislative Assembly and a former prime minister, Khan had asked the AJK government to initiate the constitutional procedure to introduce due and much-awaited amendments in the Act 1974, the interim constitution of AJK through the AJK Legislative Assembly and other relevant forums.
He said that the opposition would lobby to ensure the introduction of amendments in the AJK interim constitution to obtain more powers for elected representatives.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Khan pointed out that the government of Pakistan could only retain two major responsibilities, defence and foreign affairs of AJK, according to the UN charter on Kashmir.
He reiterated the demand that all powers related to administrative affairs of AJK be transferred to the AJK government.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2012.