By Zafar Iqbal
This week Pakistani Prime Minister received a startling welcome from people of Pakistan- Administrated Kashmir (PAK) with growing demand of transfer of more constitutional, executive and economic clout from Islamabad to Muzaffarabad. Pakistani premier Raja Pervez Ashraf visited Muzaffarabad to inaugurate two tunnel-boring machines in a controversial 969MW Neelum Jhelum Hydroelectric Project (NJHP) being constructed by a Chinese firm.
Pakistan and India are fighting a legal battle at the International Court of Arbitration (ICA) over the construction of the NJHP. The ICA had last year barred India from proceeding with the construction of any “permanent works” on or above the Kishanganga/Neelum River in Indian Kashmir on Kishanganga Dam. The court will hold its final hearing next week at Hague and is expected to pronounce its verdict by the end of this year. This gives Pakistan an opportunity to accelerate its work on the NJHP.
The Pakistan government has been accused of undermining the authority of Muzaffarabad in the implementation of this project. So far, government of Pakistan didn’t make any formal agreement with the government of Pakistani Administrated Kashmir (AJK). From human rights and environmental perspective, this is an open violation of international laws that stop governments and corporate sector form the exploitation of indigenous communities.
Article 8(b) of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples binds countries to provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources.
In this backdrop, it is an unquestionable fact that Islamabad has clearly abused the natural resources of the State by delaying and avoiding any provision or guarantee of alternative sources of livelihood to the victims of the project and concerned local authority. Furthermore, the hydroelectric project has adversely impacted indigenous livelihood causing alarming extinctions of hundreds of natural water sources and also disrupting the natural flow of the Neelum (Kishangana) river through its diversion. This forced contraction of the river raises concerns among people living on its banks that fear that at least 90 percent diversion of the water can leave their Capital city Muzaffarabad dry and to be suffered from the worst water crisis.
The logical fear of the victims is also reinforced by emerging call of Civil Society Forum – a pressure group that campaigns for a wide-ranging revamping of existing constitutional framework known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Interim Constitution Act 1974. For its critics, this Constitution, on the one hand gives inequitable and disproportionate authority to Islamabad over State’s natural assets and; on the other hand, it makes disgracefully helpless and toothless those who sit in the so- called corridors of power in Muzaffarbad.
Constitutionally, the Parliament of AJK consists of two houses. First, the Legislative Assembly that is even not allowed for the legislation over the affairs that embedded with the socio-economic development of a common person. Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Council, which could be named as “legal white elephant”, is an upper house, headed by Prime Minister of Pakistan. Its Chairperson has also an absolute authority to abolish any elected government of the AJK though he is neither elected by the members of the council or AJK assembly nor he is accountable to them. With such undemocratic and reckless backdrop, Islamabad based- Kashmir Council has turned itself into a parallel government in AJK (PAK) which brutally evades accountability of its expenditures by both public and regulators.
The anti-Muzaffarbad character of Kashmir Council is manifested from fresh replacement of Chief Accountability Judge Husain Mazhar Kaleem by the Pakistani government. Contrary to its predecessors, Justice Husain had dared to summon record of some dubious contracts from the Kashmir Council in the wake of serious complaints against some corrupt sharks backed by Islamabad which does not seem to lose its administrative grip over Muzaffarabad.
Paradoxically, with all such injustices Islamabad also champions the cause of ‘self-determination’ to the citizens of its self-proclaimed ‘juggler vein’-Kashmir. Such disgusting hypocrisy of Pakistani establishment infuriates the people of the region where over two million are unemployed and over half million have been forced to leave their homeland because the corrupt and powerless regimes cannot provide jobs to them. Instead of performing its basic responsibilities Muzaffarabad government is irresponsibly handing over national resources like water, ecological sites and minerals to the Islamabad, who has already shrewdly legitimized all its colonial tactics under Act 1974.
With such undemocratic and poor governance practises, Muzaffarabad is locked in complex constitutional jigsaw puzzles. In this context, recently few attempts have been made by civil society to promote scholarly dialogue among the stakeholders to redefine the Islamabad–Muzaffarabad relations and establish power sharing processes by granting more autonomy or self-rule to the AJK. One of the leading proponents of ‘self- rule school’ is jurist Manzoor Gillani, who heads Association for the Rights of the People of Jammu and Kashmir (ARPJK).
In order to redress this alienation of people of AJK (PAK), Mr. Husain recommends a temporary pragmatic representation of Pakistani controlled disputed areas of Kashmir to the Pakistani national institutes as other provinces has the legal and functional representation. He concludes that: “AJK and Gligit Balitistan should provisionally be given at least some quantum of autonomy as given to the provinces of Pakistan, as well as other constitutional powers and privileges enjoyed by provinces, including representation in the Parliament, due representation to the Council of Common Interest (CCI), National Economic Commission (NEC), and National Finance Commission Award (NFC), and rights over water and hydroelectric power.”
Conversely, his juristic perception is not endorsed by those who insist an entire restructuring of the legal mechanism to make people of AJK constitutionally and functionally more resourceful. Javaid Hayat, a Georg Zundel scholar at Berghof Foundation, Germany refers the public perception about the AJK’s Interim Act 1974 “as a document of slavery” and wraps up “a genuinely wide-reaching autonomy could provide the best answer to the current predicament, until the final disposition of the Kashmir conflict.”
In a nutshell, all legal and practical complexities in Azad Kashmir require a more democratic and transparent resolution, which lies in the implementation of ‘laissez-faire governance model” in order to address the public’s empowerment demands.