PPP, PML-N Ignore AJK’s real issues WITH barely a week to go before elections for the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Legislative Assembly, verbal duels between the major political parties have not only intensified, but also led to violence in some areas. This has vitiated the peaceful political atmosphere of this region.
On July 9, armed clashes between the supporters of PPP and PML-N in Haveli district caused the death of two persons and injuries to seven others, including the PML-N candidate from the area. This was the first major incident in the run-up to the July 21 elections.
A political battle that should have been fought politically, and remained confined to Azad Kashmir, has moved past the boundaries of Azad Kashmir. It is now being fought by the lieutenants of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in Islamabad because both parties appear to have made this election a matter of prestige.
Some of the statements by Mr Bhutto-Zardari in his rallies in AJK before Ramazan, and the response by Information Minister Pervez Rasheed, Chaudhry Barjees Tahir and Dr Asif Saeed Kirmani, were not only pointless but also left one with little doubt that the AJK elections had been hijacked by Pakistan-based parties.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari has repeatedly resorted to chanting slogans like “Modi ka jo yar hai ghaddar hai, ghaddar hai… Modi ke yar ko aik dhakka aur do” (Modi’s friend is a traitor and should be thrown away) in his speeches.
Outbursts like this have left a bad taste in the mouth for thinking people. They know that antipathy for his political rivals, and not sympathy for Kashmiris, has dictated Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s acerbic speeches during the election campaign.
“Since the Kashmir issue no more sells in our elections, Pakistani leaders should not invoke it in their fiery speeches… Exploiting local sentiments with such statements may serve their personal agenda, but not that of their party or voters in this territory,” says Syed Arif Bahar, an analyst.
Before Mr Bhutto-Zardari, federal ministers were also reported by local newspapers to have vilified AJK Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed in their rallies.
But of late the fight has shifted to Islamabad. Pakistan Peoples Party leaders, notable among them being Raja Pervez Ashraf, Qamar Zaman Kaira and Aitzaz Ahsan, are using the elections as a stick to beat the Pakistan Muslim League-N with.
On its part, the PML-N alleges that the PPP is trying to create a smokescreen by raising a hue and cry against the alleged involvement of the federal government.
Hurling allegations against the federal government is actually aimed at diverting attention from their corruption and dismal performance in AJK, the PML-N maintains.
However, one is tempted to ask why Azad Kashmir has suddenly become so crucial for both parties? Did they feel similar empathy for this area before electioneering picked up? The answer is not in the affirmative.
The PPP was in power in Pakistan from 2008 to 2013. In 2011, it also formed government in AJK. However, no attempt was made to address the region’s grievances over the next two years.
In fact, Rs55 billion meant for the rehabilitation of areas devastated by the 2005 earthquake is said to have been transferred to other heads by the PPP government, an allegation which federal minister Barjees Tahir makes.
The PPP amended Pakistan’s constitution in 2010, devolving powers to provinces. But the aspirations of the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir for a similar change were not seen as worthy of consideration.
It was because the AJK Council, an institution headed by the prime minister of Pakistan and dubbed in AJK as a parallel government, suits the rulers in Islamabad in its present shape.
The PML-N has been in power for the past three years and even though its 2013 election manifesto promised to invest the government in Muzaffarabad with more powers, nothing was done to redeem the pledge.
Although Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has not attended any meeting of his party’s AJK chapter for a long time, the PML-N has set its sights on forming a government here nonetheless.
AJK IN PAKISTAN’S IMAGE: On the other hand, the top leadership of PPP fears that a defeat in AJK polls will cause it embarrassment across the country. This uneasy feeling explains the party’s aggressive election drive.
“Allegations, counter-allegations, mudslinging and violence have generally been the hallmark of politics in Pakistan, but now the offshoots of Pakistani political parties have brought the malaise to this region as well,” bemoans Khizar Hayat Abbasi, an analyst.
“Azad Kashmir has not only been one of Pakistan’s most peaceful areas, but has also been regarded as a politically stable region over the past three decades. But political tensions brought about by hotly contested elections threaten to change this reality.”
According to analysts, squabbling by Pakistani politicians has pushed bread-and-butter issues out of the picture.
“With limited constitutional powers, the government in Muzaffarabad is virtually controlled and run by the bureaucracy in Islamabad, leaving the state government toothless in key administrative and constitutional matters,” Mr Abbasi says.