June 2006 News

Refugee Seats Vital In AJK Political Setting

14 June 2006
The News International

Islamabad: The world watching Azad Kashmir closely as it goes to polls Next month. Fair and transparent electrons still elude the people of Azad Kashmir. To begin with, the ruling Muslim League in Pakistan under the stewardship of Chaudhry Shujahat Hussain has openly declared to extend whole hog support to Muslim Conference (MC) in the elections. Interestingly, only few weeks back Sardar Qayyum, the veteran leader of MC, had decried that the Chaudhries of Punjab had decided to present the 12 refugee seats to Chaudhry Sultan Mahmood, a prime ministership aspirant, on a silver palate. He had also warned that it would tarnish the image of Gen Pervez Musharraf badly, both in Pakistan and abroad and he better refrain from partisan politics. Now with Chaudries back in his fold, he is visibly elated and no more sees any potential threat to the image of Gen Musharraf in the wake of these elections. Declaring it a right decision at a right time, he has thanked Chaudhries for accepting MC as the sister organization of ML, implying that truth and honesty assume different meanings to him as the context of their application changes for what so ever reason or logic.A critique of the refugee seats in Pakistan might cause heart burning in some circles as the issue is rooted both in history of freedom struggle and the bruised psyche of some Kashmiris. None however can deny that the results of elections on these seats are blatantly rigged and influenced by the ruling party in Islamabad with different objectives in the viewpoint. For instance, in 1990 MC won all the 12 refugee seats and Nawaz Sharif, the then prime minister, boasted that his government had presented these seats to Sardar Qayyum as a gift. The drama was repeated in 1996 also when PP government presented this special gift to its AJK chapter. Interestingly, when bye-elections on a seat were held following the death of a legislator Hamid Mufti, MC candidate won it comfortably as the Muslim League had taken over the rein of power both in Islamabad and Punjab by that time. Thus, if history is any thing to go by one can predict massive rigging on these seats this time round also. The electoral lists of these seats are also a matter of joke. Prepared in 1980, no body knows exactly the whereabouts of the voters as influential people have managed to sneak the names of their supporters in them wholesomely. The record of last five elections shows that municipal corporation workers cast proxy votes and even prominent refugee leaders were the victim of this smartness. Following such complaints, Jamaat-e-Islami and MC - the winner on all these seats in the previous elections - boycotted the elections in protest against the intervention of the federal government. Some historical facts also corroborate that elections on these seats are highly rigged and bogus. For instance, fresh elections were held on a seat in Rawalpindi in1998 when it was established in the court that the winner of elections held in 1996 on this seat Razaq Iqbal Butt of PP was not a Kashmiri by origin and illegally got registered his name in the electoral list. Interestingly, he had not only got elected but also become a minister of the state. If a non-Kashmiri can get elected on a refugee seat and then become a minister how about bogus voting and forgery is open to guess. The federal government has normally two objectives in the viewpoint while committing this loathsome sin in the name of democracy. It goes over board to see its allies installed in Muzaffarabad and if required for any reason, to use the refugee legislators to stage a no-confidence move against the ruling party. Bhutto government used exactly the same trick in 1975 to dethrone Sardar Qayyum. The effectiveness of this trick granted, it always badly sullies the image of Pakistan the world over aside from harming the Kashmir cause. Whenever criticized on international forums for rigging elections in Kashmir India promptly reminds Pakistan to first keep its own record clean in AJK. Therefore, one needs to understand the gravity of this issue duly. The real intention behind the allocation of these seats to refugees was to give a categorical message to the Kashmiris on the other side of the border that they were a part of the government in the liberated part of the state and after getting freedom they will get their share in the assembly in accordance with their total population. The reservation of seats was also aimed at keeping their association with and love for Kashmir intact. But over a period of time things have gone totally wrong. Though, the refugees have gradually absorbed themselves in Pakistani society and they are being treated as first class citizens of the state, the elections on these seats remain a blot on the face of democracy in AJK. The true objective behind their allocation was put on the backburner when federal government stated to use them as rubber stamp to install and dethrone governments in Muzaffarabad. Consequently, it also gave a strong message to the Kashmiris that elections in AJK were just a fašade and the real power lied with Islamabad to install a government in the state. It gave a strong argument to anti-Pakistan forces in AJK also to malign to held Islamabad responsible for the usurpation of the democratic rights of the people of this part of the state. Therefore, the need of the hour is that the federal government stays away completely elections on these seats and does not take side with any party. Similarly, the Election Commission of AJK has to ensure that fair and transparent elections are held at every cost and there are no complaints of rigging or intervention. To this end, production of identity card to cast vote be ensured as is required by the law. The chief Election Commission has come up with a very good idea that each voter will have to submit the photocopy of his identity card so that rigging charges on them could be investigated latter on. For his vested interests, the prime minister of AJK is vehemently opposing this idea but the former has to stand up and prove his commitment with true democracy. Last but not the least, the federal government must refrain from installing a hand picked prime minister after the elections as it has been doing in past. It should simply let the majority party choose its leader. If it again does not respect the verdict of the people the repercussions might be beyond comprehensions with AJK fast coming in the lime light following the ongoing peace process between India and Pakistan. Ershad Mahmud, a resident of Rawalakot, is an expert on dynamics of Kashmir disputes and India-Pakistan relations. ershad@islamabad.net


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