Pulling AJK strings from Islamabad AFTER ruling Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) for five years, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) lost the July 21 general elections miserably due to “bad governance and corruption”.
That’s what everyone alleges publicly. But there is hardly anybody who can figure out what reduced a party that won about 20 seats in 2011 to an also-ran this time round.
Most people in Azad Kashmir were put off not only by bad governance or corruption but also by the penchant of the PPP’s central leaders for meddling in the region’s affairs. It was an open secret that the strings of the government in Muzaffarabad were being pulled by people in Islamabad and Karachi.
Chaudhry Abdul Majeed was chief executive in name only. It was Faryal Talpur who called the shots.
And worse than that was the fact that the authority on her behalf was exercised by one Chaudhry Mohammad Riaz, one of the caretakers of Zardari House, Islamabad. In an attempt to provide him the fig leaf of law, the gentleman was appointed adviser to the AJK prime minister with the status of minister in Dec 2013.
However, Mr Riaz never attended his office in Muzaffarabad, opting to sit in Islamabad’s Kashmir House to take decisions on AJK affairs.
Such was his clout with Ms Talpur that senior officials would fawn on him for a posting of their choice. “Yes, I knew that every summary about postings and transfers would be first sent to Mr Riaz for getting approval from Ms Talpur and only then the prime minister would give his assent,” says one official privy to the wheeling and dealing over the past five years.
Apart from that, members of the cabinet as well as PPP cadres had also developed “direct links” with PPP leaders holding important official positions in Islamabad, mostly on the strength of Biradri (community) to dictate terms to Mr Majeed, the prime minister.
“Banking on such contacts, they would give little importance to the prime minister, further eroding his authority and prestige,” says Sohail Mughal, a journalist.
But unfortunately the PML-N, which exploited the ruling party’s misrule during the election campaign, seems to be no better either.
Of the regional heads of the three mainstream Pakistani parties, PPP’s Chaudhry Abdul Majeed remained confined to his constituency in Mirpur, but PTI’s Barrister Sultan Mahmood and PML-N’s Raja Farooq Haider toured the length and breadth of Azad Kashmir during the election campaign.
In Muzaffarabad division, the PML-N made a clean sweep because people saw Mr Haider as their next chief executive.
However on Saturday, the PML-N workers were stunned when Dr Asif Saeed Kirmani, a special assistant to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, tweeted: “Who the public and PML-N workers want to see as next prime minister in AJK?”
“It [appointment of AJK PM] is our internal party matter and we will announce it at an appropriate time,” he tweeted on Sunday.
The same day, the newly-elected legislators of the PML-N held their first informal meeting in Muzaffarabad to thrash out names for the eight special seats in AJK Assembly. Five of the eight seats have been reserved for women and one each for technocrats, religious scholars and overseas Kashmiris.
Given its two-thirds majority, the PML-N can easily clinch four seats for women and all the three others.
However, the party’s parliamentary group was shocked when it received a list of six names — Sehrish Qamar, Nasira Azeem and Nasima Wani for the three seats of women, and Jamaat-i-Islami’s AJK chief Abdul Rashid Turabi, Pir Ali Raza Bukhari and Raja Javed for the seats for technocrats, religious scholars and overseas Kashmiris, respectively. The name for one woman seat was left to the parliamentary party’s discretion.
The reason for the would-be legislators’ discomfort was that the list smelt of favouritism. Ms Qamar is daughter of Nawaz Sharif’s personal assistant, who hails from AJK; Ms Azeem, an office-bearer in the PPP government, joined the PML-N just three months ago; and Ms Wani is the wife of an Islamabad-based leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.
Of the three others, Raja Javed, a hotelier in the UK, has his roots in Mirpur district. He was among the thousands of people who were displaced by the construction of the Mangla dam during the late 60s, settling down in Sargodha. He is currently an office-bearer of Pakistan PML-N’s set-up in Britain. The party’s AJK chapter has a separate set-up in that country.
“The PML-N appears to have the same problem which made the PPP unpopular — decisions made somewhere else and conveyed to Muzaffarabad for implementation,” according to Raja Shujaat, editor of a local daily.
The local PML-N workers, too, are simmering with resentment. The anger is directed at Dr Kirmani as they believe that he is trying to reprise the role played by Faryal Talpur for the PPP.
The concerns have also been conveyed to Mr Sharif with the expectation that he would address their grievances at a meeting of the parliamentary party on Wednesday (today).
Analyst Arif Bahar says that there should be no middlemen between Mr Sharif and his regional chief because the go-betweens usually create misunderstandings and problems for their vested interests.
“Governance in AJK can see a marked improvement only when the elected prime minister in Muzaffarabad is given a free hand by his parent party in Islamabad,” he said
“If anyone in Islamabad tries to pull the strings of this government [in Muzaffarabad], he will only cause factionalism and a mess that may be worse than the outgoing regime,” he added.