Azad Kashmir is a bad index of democracy in Pakistan. The results after the elections to the legislative assembly of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) have proved this once again. The PPP has won enough seats to form the next government; the PML-N is the runner-up, promising an aggressive if not violent in-house contest in the coming months. AJK governments can be toppled easily and the governments replacing them can be toppled too, that is what happened after the 2008 elections. The ‘establishment’ wins and is always the kingmaker.
The campaigns this time were visceral and below the belt. The polls were disturbed outside AJK where Kashmiris can have double votes, one for Pakistan and one for AJK. In Punjab, the PPP and the PML-N grappled with each other and fired pistols in the air for TV channels to cover. In AJK, the elections were peaceful with no complaints about vote-fixing. The incumbent Muslim Conference government did not try to win because it knew who was supposed to win.
Prime Minister Sardar Atique used an official helicopter during his campaign, against the code of conduct, knowing that he could be disqualified. The election commissioner, however, decided to blink the violation, then ‘balanced’ the violation by allowing PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to come to AJK and campaign for their parties, which poisoned the pre-poll environment and set the tone for disorder in Punjab. Sardar Atique ended up saying it was no poll but a wrestling champions match (dangal) between the two big parties. Imran Khan, who stayed out of the AJK polls, kept on saying it was noora kushti.
With the glare of the media on AJK as never before, the farce is becoming quite threadbare. India ‘separated’ its own side of Kashmir through a clause in its Constitution, then proceeded to destroy its autonomous status through amendments. In Pakistan, the AJK Constitution contains an article that shifts the power away from the AJK legislative assembly to the Kashmir affairs ministry where a Kashmir council, presided over by the prime minister of Pakistan, actually rules AJK, appointing all the crucial officials, including the election commissioner. Because of its strategic importance, AJK is in the grip of the agencies that call the shots.
Myths proliferate. The AJK assembly represents Azad Kashmir and the territory administered by India across the Line of Control. Since the refugees from the other side are scattered all over Pakistan, AJK elections for seats from the ‘other side’ are held in other provinces too. The MQM, which had won two seats last time, wanted to retain them both, but the PPP wanted one. When the MQM did not agree, the inspector-general of the Sindh police reported that conditions for polls in Sindh were not good, thus allowing the government to postpone voting. This has led to another PPP-MQM rift which promises to get worse in the coming days, with MQM leader Altaf Hussain saying that “the end of the PPP has begun”.
Everybody knows that India rules Kashmir from New Delhi, calling the head of the executive there chief minister; Pakistan has sensationalised the myth by calling the AJK chief executive the prime minister while ruling AJK from Islamabad. Once, the Muslim Conference was the blue-eyed boy of the establishment. Under General Ziaul Haq, Sardar Qayyum and Nawaz Sharif were equal beneficiaries at the fountainhead of power. The Muslim Conference thought it could go along with President Pervez Musharraf and switch off jihad. Sardar Atique is blameless today. The fact is that the establishment has rolled back the Musharraf policy and dumped his party.
A ‘flexible’ President Asif Ali Zardari has taken the PPP into the embrace of the establishment, concerned about reviving the ‘safe havens’ scaled down by Musharraf. On the other hand, the PML-N is challenging the establishment, not because of any difference in its thinking, but because of the PPP. It can switch off its intense criticism of the army if the latter dumps the PPP. The military is not particularly enamoured of the PPP. Furthermore, in comparison with the PML-N, it is less fearful of the PPP because of the PML-N’s reach and clout in the country’s most populous province. And clout matters within the officers’ corps.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2011.