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From Murree to Muzaffarabad PDF Print
Written by Khalid Hasan   
Sunday, 27 August 2006 00:00

A story is told, and it happens to be true — that the general who cools his heels at 7,000 feet above the sea in Murree and who, apart from running his division, keeps an eye on Azad Kashmir, was upset because down in Muzaffarabad someone had been given a job without his permission. So down went a letter demanding to know on whose authority the appointment had been made. After some head scratching, the general was advised that the appointment had been made by “the competent authority”, which is how duly constituted government is officially described. Pat came the rejoinder, “The competent authority is hereby instructed to make no such appointments without the permission of this office.” Moral of the story: there is government and then there is super-government.

Our credentials for demanding the right of self-determination for the people of Indian-held Kashmir would be much stronger if the government elected to govern Azad Kashmir were truly autonomous. Regrettably, it never has been. Islamabad continues to hold the reins and call the shots. Since 1947-48, the two top civil service posts — that of the chief secretary and the inspector general of police — have been held by Pakistan-sent officers. Any Azad Kashmir president or prime minister who has tried to assert his authority has found himself out of power before long. Big Brother calls the tune, even though his reasons may be entirely well-intentioned and paternalistic. For instance, if the Azad Kashmir president or prime minister wishes to proceed abroad officially, the permission to do so has to come from Islamabad.

The other day, there was a conference on South Asia in Washington, where Dr Vijay Sazwal, a Kashmiri Pandit and an American citizen who runs the Indo-American Kashmir Forum, read a paper on Kashmir in which he quoted from records released by the British government about 10 years ago. He argued that any Kashmir solution would need to be not land-centric but people-centric. The papers show, he said, that while the British were generally supportive of the State’s accession to India, they believed that Indian control of the western borderlands would pose a grave threat to West Pakistan, which could lead to its balkanisation. At that time, the Whitehall and the Pakistan government were also discussing a military alliance that would maintain British military presence in the NWFP region because of lingering fears of a Russian incursion. Once the tribesmen went into Kashmir in October 1947 and insurgencies broke out in Poonch and some other areas, political directives from the Whitehall to British civil and military officers in the subcontinent were precise in stating that India should be denied full reoccupation of the State and a ceasefire should take place along a well delineated boundary that disconnected Indian Kashmir from Pakistan.

Sazwal wondered if Gen Pervez Musharraf’s concept of self-governance for Kashmir was based on the Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas model. Until 1974, Azad Kashmir had a presidential system, the president being an Islamabad nominee. The interim AK constitution was passed in 1974, creating the lower house and the AJK Council, which was to be presided over by the prime minister of Pakistan. Laws passed by the AJK Council do not have to be approved by the AJK Assembly, and they do not need the assent of the President of Azad Kashmir. However, laws passed by the AJK Assembly have to be approved by the Council and require presidential assent.

The Northern Areas are a part of the State but they have been directly administered by Pakistan since 1949. In 1972, the AJK Assembly passed a resolution demanding control over the Northern Areas but without success. It was not until 1993 that a full bench of the AJK High Court ruled that the administrative system of the Northern Area is arbitrary, and its governance should be handed over to the Azad Kashmir government. The Pakistan government challenged that order in the Azad Kashmir Supreme Court, which came out with a compromise decision in 1994, holding that “the verdict we reach is that the NA are part of the J&K State but not part of AJK as defined by the Interim Constitution Act of 1974.” Then there was the 1999 landmark decision by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, directing Islamabad to undertake new steps to improve the legislative, administrative and legal rights of the people of the Northern Areas. This has led to some improvements but far more needs to be done to give the people of the area their democratic rights. To this day, they have no representation in either the Pakistani or the Azad Kashmir legislature.

In a paper Sazwal wrote in 2004 about Indian-held Kashmir, he criticised the inefficient and corrupt manner in which the state had been run, while highlighting the plight of the rural areas where the condition of the people had not changed in 55 years. He concluded by pointing out that as much as the United States believes that India sees everything through the “Pakistani prism, America itself has a tendency to see everything from the “nuclear prism” in South Asia. He suggested that Washington should redirect its focus in the subcontinent and make Indian and Pakistani active participation in SAARC and the South Asian Free Trade Agreement its top priority. “Kashmir cannot bloom in isolation because there is no such separate country. On the other hand, if India and Pakistan become peaceful trading partners, there is every reason to believe that people from all regions of Jammu and Kashmir will find themselves in the midst of that trading boom. People will travel at will and fences and boundary will lose their significance. What wars and militancy could not achieve in Kashmir will become reality through peaceful coexistence and growing commerce,” he wrote.

The only question is: will it ever happen?

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 September 2010 03:29


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