ISLAMABAD: In what appear to be a move to influence the upcoming general elections in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), the federal government has announced an 11 per cent increase in the region’s development budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
For AJK’s development, the government has allocated Rs11 billion as compared to the Rs9.9 billion of the previous year. Interestingly, of the outgoing year’s development budget, a total of Rs8.4 billion was spent while Rs1.5 billion remained unused.
Separately, the government has allocated Rs185 million for the Refugees Management Cell (RMC) that deals with refugees from the Indian-administered Kashmir living in Pakistan, and works under the administrative ambit of the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan.
The 48-seat AJK Legislative Assembly comprises 12 seats for Pakistan-based Kashmiri refugees, who elect their respective representatives on these seats in each general election.
The AJK Election Commission’s focal person for media Tariq Mahmood Butt told The Express Tribune that the number of Pakistan-based Kashmiri refugees who will vote in the upcoming AJK general elections is estimated to be between 450,000 and 500,000 voters.
At present, he said, the preparation of electoral rolls is under way and the exact number of voters could only be determined in the days to come following the completion of this process.
The number of total registered voters in the AJK is likely to exceed 2.2 million, he said. To a query regarding the final date for the AJK general elections, Butt said the election date has not been finalised. “As and when the general election date is finalised, it will be made public in due course.”
Constitutionally, general elections in the AJK are required to be held prior to the expiry of the AJK legislative assembly’s tenure but not more than two months before the end the of the assembly’s tenure. Given that the assembly’s term expires on July 24, the general polls can be held anytime from May 25 to July 24.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is currently recuperating in London after an open heart surgery and the PML-N is concerned about the possible repercussions of his absence from the AJK’s political scene at a time when the political activities there are in full swing.
The top leaders of the rival parties – including the PTI chief Imran Khan and the PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari – have been visiting the AJK as part of the election campaigns of their respective parties and the PML-N AJK chapter believes that the premier’s presence is necessary to balance the political equation.
For now it is unclear whether the PM will be able to recover well in time to play a role in boosting the PML-N’s position in the territory.
In addition to the development budget, the federal government has also allocated Rs290 million in the current budget for the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan. Up to Rs3 million have been allocated for Jammu and Kashmir Refugees Hospital in Attock and Rs3.5 million for Jammu and Kashmir Refugees Rehabilitation Organisation operating in Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2016.