By Anwesha Ray Chaudhuri
The India-Pakistan foreign secretary and foreign minister level talks made the headlines of almost all dailies this summer; but pushed an important news item to the margins. This was regarding the elections held in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) or Azad Kashmir held on June 26, 2011. The political circus that unfolded following the announcement of poll results clearly indicated the internal rifts in the political structure of the Pakistani state.
While Jammu and Kashmir receives lot of media attention as a dispute between India and Pakistan, PoK seems to have escaped the scanner of the media. PoK did receive some attention after the 2005 earthquake. The militant camps there also get occasional media coverage. However, the political processes in PoK hardly generate any interest in the national and international media. The fact remains that while Pakistan has successfully managed to focus media attention on the alleged heavy-handed Indian rule in the valley of Kashmir, it has not bothered to clean its own backyard when it comes to the parts under its control.
The polls held to elect a new government in Azad Kashmir have raised questions about how both the civilian government and the army of Pakistan treat the people of PoK without any concern for the basic (human) rights of the population. Local accusations of the heavy military presence and use of strong arm tactics to ensure predetermined results indicate popular disillusionment with the way in which Pakistan has been dealing with local political processes. Further, Pakistan’s two major political parties, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz faction or PML(N), have been at loggerheads in the region after the June elections. PML(N) has accused PPP of blatant rigging in the elections and of distributing fake identity cards to undermine the electoral process. It has also alleged misappropriation of funds by the PPP from developmental projects to achieve its election goals. Sporadic cases of violence have also been reported. The overall democratic process was flawed in its entirety, beginning with the local election commission which was allegedly hand-in-gloves with the federal government to manoeuvre the polls in its favour.
This election also demonstrated that inter-party tolerance, respect for electoral mandate and democratic and peaceful methods of polling hold no value for mainstream political parties in Pakistan, and that they would also force these practices on the people of PoK. The fact remains that the people controlling the electoral process excluded a large number of eligible voters from the list, included bogus voters and resorted to force with support from local authorities to turn the results in the favour of one party or other. However, on the face of it, it should not be impossible for the authorities in PoK to ensure peaceful elections in a truly democratic manner, if they are determined to do so. But, what seems to be an impediment here is the freedom allowed to Pakistani political parties to design and shape Azad Kashmir politics in accordance with their needs and interests. In fact, the local problems of the people of PoK hardly find any mention in the electoral politics.
Azad Kashmir has also not been given a provincial status in Pakistan. Therefore it is important to ask, whether Pakistani political parties should be given a free rein in Azad Kashmir? Since, Pakistan spares no effort to run down Indian governance in Jammu and Kashmir and sheds crocodile tears over the treatment meted out by India to the Kashmiri people, Pakistan’s dichotomous role in PoK politics needs to be flagged by the people of PoK in international forums. Pakistan disqualifies candidates who do not declare allegiance to the Pakistani position of PoK’s accession to Pakistan. This highlights Pakistan’s insincerity on its stated position that the future of Kashmir should be decided by its people. The “Northern Areas” or Gilgit Baltistan as it is known now, have also been illegally kept as an occupied territory for long under the jackboots of the Pakistan army without any representative system of governance. The nominal representative body that has been introduced since 2009 is not acceptable to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. The differences of approach between India and Pakistan in relation to the areas of Kashmir under their control are too conspicuous to be missed.
Of more serious concern for the region and its population is the ever-growing influence of the army and the ISI, which can be clearly seen in the appointment of institutional heads like the chief election commissioner, judges, etc., who have a direct influence on the electoral processes. Pakistan has long conspired- successfully- to have puppet governments in Muzaffarabad to carry forward its traditional policy on Kashmir and relations with India. This also has been the traditional bastion of the army and ISI where they have been mollycoddling the anti-India militant outfits. An independent government in PoK may severely limit Pakistan’s Kashmir policy vis-à-vis India.
However, Pakistan must understand that this situation may not continue for long. It has to devolve real power to the PoK administration and allow real democracy there. If Pakistan wants to avoid serious crises in the future in ‘Azad Kashmir’, it should practice greater respect for individual rights and allow indigenous political outfits to participate in the political processes. Its efforts to annex the territory as a de facto province without constitutional rights or representation has rendered PoK as one of the most marginalised areas, unlike in the case of Jammu and Kashmir in India, where basic constitutional rights and special status have been granted to the people of the state. Pakistan’s tirade against Indian rule in Kashmir is nothing but hypocrisy to hide its own misrule in PoK.
Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/AzadKashmirelectionsandPakistanshypocrisy_archaudhuri_130911