By Luv Puri, July 7, 2011 Thursday, July 7, 2011 – 1:05 PM Share
Last month, Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir (PAJK) became a political battleground for mainstream Pakistani parties as the country’s top elite campaigned in the hilly and much-coveted region.
Twenty-five political parties, including the local branches of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Muslim Conference (a local party credited for leading the revolt against the princely ruler of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947), Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami, contested the elections. PML-N leader and namesake Nawaz Sharif led his party’s campaign, whilePakistan’s prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was the face of the PPP. The electoral battle was far from smooth, as violence claimed three lives and scores of political agents and workers were injured during the process. According to the unofficial results, of 34 seats contested, the PPP won 19, the PML-N nine, the Muslim Conference four, while two independent candidates managed to work their way in as well.
Politicians from the region and commentators within Pakistan have remarked that the elections will impact Pakistan’s position on the larger Jammu and Kashmir issue, the perennial source of friction with rival and neighbor India. The present PAJK Prime Minister and Muslim Conference leader Sardar Attique termed the elections one of the “blackest” polls in the history of the state, and said that the polls would have a negative impact on the Kashmir issue. He attacked both the PPP and PML-N, and demanded an inquiry commission comprising judges of superior courts be constituted to look into complaints of irregularities. However, PPP leaders have termed the election a reflection of its popularity among the masses.
The issue of Jammu and Kashmir has defined Pakistan’s foreign policy and security considerations since 1947. Pakistan has often claimed that the region under its control is an independent state — PAJK is known as “Azad Jammu Kashmir” in Pakistan, and the ruling elite in Islamabad often tell foreign audiences that the region is a separate country, with Pakistan only responsible for its defense. The region has its own constitution and separate flag. Its diaspora settled in the West, one of the biggest from South Asia, is a key source of foreign exchange for Pakistan.
In actual practice, though, no political party that openly advocates independence for PAJK can participate in the elections. Part 2 of section 7 of the 1974 PAJK constitution says that “no person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to the ideology of the state’s accession to Pakistan.” Under section 5 (2) (vii) of the PAJK Legislative Assembly Election Ordinance 1970, “a person will be disqualified for propagating any opinion or action in any manner prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, the ideology of state’s [sic] accession to Pakistan, or the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan.” Thus, without signing a sworn statement of allegiance to Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan and thus renouncing the region’s independence, nobody is allowed to take part in the PAJK legislative assembly elections.
Notwithstanding the integrationist provisions within the PAJK constitution, Pakistani political parties have always taken a nuanced public stand in the region’s politics, though intervention of the federal government was quite obvious at frequent occasions in the power struggle within the region. The present election is an important watershed in the region’s political history, as the electoral process converted the region into a virtual playground of Pakistani politics. Though the PPP has been an important political player in the region for more than two decades, these elections marked the entry into the local politics of the PML-N, which had traditionally supported the Muslim Conference.
The founder of the original Muslim League and an independent Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, took the position that the party would support the Muslim Conference in Jammu and Kashmir and not float its branch in the region. After the partition of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947, the Muslim League and its later avatars continued to support the Muslim Conference in PAJK, in order to maintain Jinnah’s traditional position. The PML-N’s decision to enter the fray resulted in the electoral process becoming a fight between Pakistan’s arch rivals.
The current vote was a continuation of the process which started during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s tenure as prime minister, when the Muslim Conference’s political monopoly over the region was challenged for the first time. Bhutto opened a branch of the PPP in the region, and decided to encourage a more progressive leadership. He even traveled to the area and met pro-independence leaders in Mirpur district, PAJK’s most prosperous district and economic hub, and asked them to join the party. Three decades later, a number of disgruntled local leaders of the Muslim Conference approached Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz (now the chief minister in the Punjab province) to open a branch of the PML-N, bringing the process full-circle and fully enmeshing Pakistan’s national political parties in the local political scene.
Besides paying lip service to Kashmir issue, the main political issues raised during the elections were an extension of those prevalent in the rest of Pakistan. The prime issue which dominated the elections was the role of Pakistani military in the national politics. The PML-N made a quick retreat from its previously aggressive stance on Pakistani military, when Shahbaz Sharif, campaigning in central PAJK, clarified that the party is only against few generals. Incidentally, Sharif made the remark in an area that is one of the prime recruiting belts of Pakistani military. Some of the highest-level generals in Pakistan’s military have come from the area.
The PAJK election has also impacted the national political scene. The PPP’s refusal to concede one seat reserved for refugees from the region voting in Sindh province to the MQM became the final straw, prompting the MQM to withdraw its support from the PPP government. However, the withdrawal should be seen in the light of gradual deterioration of the relationship between the two parties, a movement rooted in competition between the two parties to strengthen their respective bases in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province.
The PAJK election will ultimately have several important implications. The entry of more political parties in the region has since increased competition, which in turn may prove to be better for the electorate. In the past, most of the critical decisions regarding the region were taken by the federal government, which then defended these decisions under the guise of “national interests” which placed the policies above question. Potentially, now with a greater participation of Pakistani political parties in PAJK, there will be greater federal government accountability in the region, and a greater need to both explain government actions and more directly provide for the local people.
The election also demolishes the decades-old myth perpetuated in Pakistan that PAJK is a separate country. It has become an extension of Pakistan’s polity, a fact that will almost certainly re-shape the narrative of the Pakistani political elite on PAJK — something that will in turn have implications on the broader Jammu and Kashmir issue. Pro-independence groups, particularly in southern PAJK (which incidentally garner extensive support from the diaspora), and regional political groups will continue to oppose the full-scale participation of Pakistani political parties in PAJK governance, which may cause increased friction in the future.
But perhaps more importantly, for years the Pakistani state has brushed aside the presence of militant groups in the region by saying that PAJK is an independent country, and that the state has no jurisdiction over its affairs. As Pakistan pulls PAJK into a tighter embrace, it will have to deal with the consequences of the region’s more formal integration into Pakistan, and accept responsibility for how its territory is used from now on.
Luv Puri is a political analyst, who has written two books on South Asian political and security issues. His book Across the Line of Control, based on field work in Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir will be co-published by C. HURST & CO. (PUBLISHERS) LTD in July 2011 and Columbia University Press in the fall of 2011.