EDITORIAL: In the aftermath of uproarious electioneering, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has won simple majority to be in position to form government in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK). The elections in the 45 constituencies were relatively peaceful, but the turnout (around 58 percent) was a bit lower than what it was in the previous general election. While the PTI won 25 seats, its main rivals Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N) won 15 and six seats, respectively. Jammu and Kashmir People’s Party (JKPP) and All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference (AJKMC) won one seat each. Results of the LA-16 Bagh have been withdrawn by the Election Commission as the ballot papers were lost in clashes at two polling stations. And ex-prime minister Raja Farooq Haider has won from LA-32 Muzaffarabad. Who will be the next chief executive? There is a tie between veteran AJK politician Barrister Sultan Mahmood and newcomer Sardar Tanweer Ilyas. The latter is presently serving as special assistant to the Punjab chief minister on investment. As expected and in line with the post-election tradition, the anti-PTI parties have questioned the impartiality of the AJK elections. But beyond this there is not much they can do. Obviously, peaceful transition of power in AJK would be a clarion call to the international community, exhorting it to weigh in with India to restore normalcy in Illegally Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
Almost a month-long election campaign in Azad Kashmir was intense with leaders and the led having no regard for Covid-19 SOPs. However, there were two significant takes from the electioneering. First, in complete disregard of electioneering dos and don’ts, the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs, Ali Amin Gandapur, not only violated the law by purportedly distributing cash to win votes but kept visiting the constituencies in violation of the Election Commission’s ban, including his trip in the company of Prime Minister Imran Khan. His antics might have helped his party win a seat or two but this would remain an irremovable stigma on his government’s claim of holding free and fair election in AJK. Secondly, during his visits Imran Khan told the Kashmiri voters twice that ‘once they have acceded to Pakistan after the UN-mandated referendum in the light of UN Security Council resolutions Islamabad would grant them the right to an independent status if a majority so desired’. His call seems to be in line with Article 257 of the Constitution, which says “When the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir decide to accede to Pakistan, the relationship between Pakistan and that of State shall be determined in accordance with the wishes of that State”. Territorial integration of Jammu and Kashmir into Pakistan “whether by accession or otherwise” is also envisaged by Article 1 of the Constitution. But the problem with the prime minister’s stance that referendum is possible only after the implementation of the UN resolutions. And that remains a distant dream. What is then in the prime minister’s mind? Was he speaking for the Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control or only for AJK? It is a critical question and for this fundamental option Parliament was the proper forum. Otherwise, he could be accused of sidestepping the UN resolutions and being at variance with decades-long struggle for the Kashmir cause. As expected, the political opposition has severely criticised the prime minister’s announcement, arguing such remarks can damage the Kashmir cause. “We reject any stance that is not rooted in the UN SC resolutions and the country’s historic position,” said Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly, Shehbaz Sharif, too, has rejected the PM’s scheme of things. Since the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions is nowhere in sight a referendum in this regard is out of question. But doesn’t this stance help the quarters who visualize a provincial status for AJK?
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021