POK-Marked By A General
13 August 2001
Lahore: IN the rough-and-tumble of politics in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for India), President Pervez Musharraf and his military regime displayed their lack of enthusiasm for democracy through a carefully-managed election of Maj Gen Sardar Anwar Khan as the 12th president of the state. Anwar's election once again illustrates the deep suspicion Islamabad has of Kashmiri leaders, and its paranoia of New Delhi's designs there.
His election is definitely a setback to those Pakistanis who showcase the democracy of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (ajk) as a riposte to Indian critics worrying over the political fate of Kashmiris here. Says former ajk prime minister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry: "There seems no cogent reason to fill a ceremonial office with a military man, albeit recently retired, unless the marked tendency of Musharraf regime to seek 'jobs for the boys', both
serving and retired, has now reached out to ajk."
Interestingly, the 56-year-old Anwar, who hails from ajk's southern Poonch district, wasn't in the list of presidential candidates. But three days before the presidential polls, held on August 1, the Musharraf regime retired him prematurely from the service. In addition, the ajk government promulgated an ordinance waiving the two-year post-retirement ban on government officers contesting elections.
Obviously, Anwar's election had all the trappings of a democratic contest. Contesting on the ticket of former ajk prime minister Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan's All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, he trounced the ajk Pakistan People's Party (ajk-ppp) candidate Latif Akbar in an election which had as its electoral college the 48-member ajk Legislative Assembly, the six-member j&k Council, and the federal minister in charge of the latter. With the Muslim Conference defeating the ajk ppp in a direct election a fortnight back—and then subsequently nominating Anwar as its candidate for president—the military regime managed to camouflage its blatant interference in ajk's election process through an orchestrated charade.
Perhaps no one knows this better than Qayyum, who opted out of the contest even though it was he who had been earlier nominated to the Muslim Conference ticket. In the past, every time the Muslim Conference won an election, Qayyum and Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan swapped the posts of prime minister and president between them—this year it was Sikandar's turn to become prime minister, which he did on July 25, and Qayyum was to occupy the office of the ceremonial head.
But then the military regime intervened and pressured the two Muslim Conference leaders to accept Anwar's candidature. The announcement shocked Muslim Conference legislators, some of whom turned emotional and threatened to not cast their votes in case Qayyum didn't contest. Ultimately, Qayyum and Sikandar managed a consensus in favour of Islamabad's candidate.
Well-placed sources say Islamabad's wariness of Qayyum stems from his close association with deposed premier Nawaz Sharif. Aware of the military regime's reservations about him, Qayyum had privately expressed his reluctance to become president even before Islamabad pushed Anwar into the electoral arena. For instance, following his election as prime minister, Sikandar told newsmen: "Even if Sardar (Qayyum) Sahib was not willing, the parliamentary party has the right to elevate him to the office of the president, like it has named me on his recommendation for the post of prime minister".
A senior officer in the military establishment says the regime considers Qayyum suspect because of his alleged close links with some Indian 'agents'. "Intelligence reports," says he, "show that Sardar Qayyum and his elder son Sardar Attiq Khan are in constant touch with Bhim Singh and Karan Singh, two Indian politicians from occupied Kashmir, who are also involved in Track-2 diplomacy.... Also, Babar Badar, a former commander of the Muslim Janbaz Force (an ajk-based Kashmiri militant organisation), who defected to the Indian army a few years ago, used to be a close friend of Sardar Attiq Khan."
But couldn't the military regime have pressed the Muslim Conference for nominating a civilian other than Qayyum? Explains a senior army officer: "We are passing through a very critical period. We have reports that Indians can resort to a limited war with Pakistan in case the ongoing Indo-Pak parleys finally fail. In such an eventuality, there is every likelihood of Indian gun-ship helicopters targeting the training camps, located in the ajk territory. Gen Anwar has the capability to convert the 700 km along the ajk Line of Control into a military base camp, whenever required."
Indeed, plans are already afoot to introduce 'constitutional reforms' and create a 'balance of power' between the prime minister and the president. Adds the army officer: "Currently, the office of the ajk prime minister is far more powerful than that of the president. The military regime wants to ensure that the ajk president no more remains a dummy head of the state."
Speculations about constitutional reforms had Anwar declare, soon after his election: "There is no dispute over the division of powers between me and prime minister Sikandar Hayat. We both will decide the division of powers mutually." Obviously, it doesn't take much to predict whose voice will be decisive in such discussions.
The general also refuted the charge that the military regime interfered in the election to ensure he was chosen president. He claimed that his candidature was Qayyum's decision, which was unanimously endorsed by the Executive Council of the Muslim Conference, a position Maj Gen Rashid Qureshi, director-general of the Inter Services Public Relations, reiterated.
But then in Pakistan, as under any other military dictatorship, the apparent is the only story the military regime proffers.