Army General voted POK president
1 August 2001
The Times of India
Muzaffarabad: Lawmakers in the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) on Wednesday elected a newly retired army general as the territory''s president amid surprise over quick legal changes made to allow his induction. Major- General Mohammad Anwar, who retired only on Saturday as the army''s vice-chief of general staff, was elected with 36 votes against opposition candidate Latif Akbar''s 18 from a 55-member electoral college. One member was absent. The territory''s president is only a figurehead within a parliamentary system in which the prime minister wields executive powers. Previous rules had barred state employees from holding public office within two years of their retirement. The lightning emergence of a general to become the ruling party''s nominee surprised many local politicians, some of whom voiced fears the move could erode the local autonomy Pakistan often cited in its dispute over the Himalayan region with arch-rival India. The newly-elected government run by the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference (AJKMC) issued a decree at the weekend scrapping the two-year retirement rule and swiftly followed with an announcement that Anwar would be its presidential candidate. The move came after AJKMC chief, former guerrilla leader Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan who had been expected to run for president, declined to stand for the office he has held before. Amanullah Khan, chairman of the pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, told Reuters that he feared the next move would be to cut the powers of the prime minister of the territory, which is called ''Azad (free) Kashmir'' by Pakistan and Pakistan- occupied Kashmir'' by India. ''The separate identity of Azad Kashmir is being eroded and it will bring Pakistan on a par with India in their treatment to Kashmiris,'' he said. Latif Akbar, who had stood for the presidency under the Pakistan People''s Party (PPP) of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said the sudden legal change to enable Anwar to contest was made in bad faith, a charge immediately denied by state prime minister Sardar Sikandar Hayat. ''We are not against a retired general contesting the election...but the way the law was changed will undermine democracy,'' Akbar told Reuters. Hayat said the amending ordinance, which must be passed by the state legislature to become law, was issued not only for Anwar but for every government employee. The election of Anwar happened a week after the AJKMC took power by winning state elections and six weeks after Pakistani military ruler General Pervez Musharraf assumed the country''s presidency by removing a civilian incumbent. Anwar is due to formally take office on August 25, when a veteran politician, Sardar Ibrahim Khan, completes his five-year tenure in the office. India rules about 45 percent and Pakistan a little more than a third of Kashmir, over which the two countries have fought two of their three wars since independence from Britain in 1947. China holds the remainder of the territory.