October 2004 News

Power Struggle In AJK

15 October 2004
The News International
Ershad Mahmud

Islamabad: The current political crisis in Azad Kashmir has seemingly reached its climax. Ruling Muslim Conference stalwarts such as Prime Minister Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan, rebel faction leader Shah Ghulam Qadir and above all Sardar Attiq Ahmad Khan, the keenest aspirant for premiership, all are at loggerheads with each other. To make things worst, president of the state has also issued several public statements against the sitting Prime Minister. Interestingly, all the stakeholders claim to enjoy the confidence of parliamentary majority and, the most important in the final analysis, the federal government at Islamabad. Thus, the main question in the present context is what is the genesis of present turmoil is and who is going to win the battle? There is no denying the fact that Prime Minister Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan was not nominated by the Muslim Conference (MC) parliamentary party for the top slot. In fact, Sardar Attiq, MC President, was the natural candidate for the premiership as he had led the entire election campaign. As is the case quite often in Pakistan, different lobbies backed Sikandar and got round the entire MC to vote for Sikandar. Consequently, he became the Prime Minister but party workers and leaders didn't accept this decision and eventually lunched a campaign against his government. Given the fact that he was brought to power thanks to support of certain quarters, Sardar Sikandar never felt under any obligation to be answerable to the party or formulate policies as per its guidelines. So much so that he even once openly accused his influential minister and party secretary general Shah Ghulam Qadir that he offered him commission in some contracts. Although due to the timely intervention of the president and some other senior party leaders, the issue was somehow or the other settled, it did sow the seeds of discord between Sikandar and Qadir. Within first two years of his rule Sikandar received two setbacks from the party head Sardar Attiq who made abortive efforts to get the parliamentary members around and remove Sikandar from the scene. Such failed bids further widened the gulf between the party cadre and the Prime Minster. Finally, the prevalent rift resulted in the resignation of four ministers namely Shah Ghulam Qadir, Tariq Farooq, Masood Khalid and Hamid Rana. The situation became further difficult for Sikandar when he came under severe criticism of the President on different issues like establishment of a medical college and good governance. Needless to mention that it gave a new height to the ongoing crisis and damaged Sikandar's position both within the party and government. Interestingly enough, Sardar Attiq, the arch rival of Sikandar, in the meantime switched his loyalty and jumped on to the bandwagon of Sikandar and agreed to take oath of senior minister. However, the invisible hand did not allow him to join the cabinet. Later on, he again initiated the anti- Sikandar campaign. Meanwhile, the disgruntled ministers set up their own group and are now claiming to enjoy the support of 11 assembly members. Numerically speaking, the AJK assembly has 48 members out of which 32 belong to the ruling Muslim Conference, while the remaining are the members of the opposition Peoples Party, Azad Kashmir chapter. If, as it claims, the rebel group has a support of 11 members out of a total of 32, it clearly suggests that Prime Minster has lost the confidence of the majority and the house should elect the new head of the government. Sadly enough, numbers and fair play seldom matter in AJK politics. Soon after the establishment of the political set up in AJK, Ministry of Kashmir Affairs started backing its favourites in local politics. However, since the inception of ongoing uprising in the disputed State of Jammu and Kashmir, followed by Musharraf's takeover, military establishment has totally taken over this charge from the latter. Resultantly, instead of focusing on grassroots politics, most of the AJK politicians are tactfully projecting themselves as being very close to the military establishment in Islamabad as they rightly believe that their success or otherwise is directly dependent upon this factor. It is a matter of fact that the federal government ensured the holding of transparent and fair elections in AJK in 2001 but it didn't allow the majority party to nominate Prime Minister and President. It created a lot of confusion and rift among the rank and file of the Muslim Conference which has still not subsided. The Prime Minister knew well that it was not the party that had nominated him for the PM's office but the powerful establishment; so he never cared about the party decisions and desires. Ironically speaking, the rebel group leader Shah Qadir also portrays himself as a close ally of the establishment. There is no doubt that Skandar Hayat is one of the better skilled players among AJK politicians. During the last three years he has managed to get patronage of influential power circles of federal government. He is known to play his cards well, so he created a group of seven sympathisers in the Peoples Party parliamentary party. Although, morally he has lost the battle but legally he is on the sound footing. As AJK constitution requires that if any group wants to move no-confidence resolution, it has to show alternative name for the Premiership. In the present situation MC rebel group and PPP are able to form a coalition government but both are interested to get the top seat. Secondly, federal government this time is not backing any particular group. Though, it is a healthy sign, which ultimately can strengthen democracy in Azad Kashmir, it is widely regarded as an indirect support to Sikandar. In this context, circumstances support Sikandar Hayat and it is most likely that the situation will remain same ie fragile and uncertain two more years until new elections are held. In this backdrop, Islamabad should ensure fairplay in AJK politics and should not back any particular group or a person on personal liking or disliking. If it could play a neutral role it would be certainly in the long-term interests of Pakistan besides stabilising the democratic system in AJK. In sum, it needs to be realised that all is not well in AJK. The need of the hour, therefore, is to make sure that political system and different state institutions are allowed to function on truly democratic lines and nobody or institution, no matter how powerful or influential, is given the liberty to play the role of king maker. Similarly, it is also imperative that the civil society in the state comes forward and does its best to help not the persons but the system flourish on solid basis. Unfortunately, the role of civil society in AJK politics hitherto has been almost totally nonexistent and consequently it is the people who have suffered heavily because of this sad reality.


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