By Hasnat Sheikh
In Azad Jammu and Kashmir over the past few weeks media and political stalwarts have been welcoming and parading the amendments in the former Interim Constitution Act 74.
Where the PML-N- backed prime minster who had long been pushing for the dismantling of the Kashmir Council, a body that used to act as an equilibrium and connection between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Azad state of Jammu and Kashmir, seems to have finally achieved his “nationalist” utopia through the celebrated amendments in the aforementioned act.
Though the PML-N government failed to dismantle the AJK council completely, it is worth mentioning that they effectively succeeded to redefine it as a body of advisory status.
Among the legislative matters of which the majority previously laid with the Kashmir Council, where half of the members were from AJK and the other half from Pakistan discussed those affairs but were ratified in joint sittings with the entire assembly as was the case for this amendment. It is claimed that a greater portion of those legislative subjects have been transferred to the AJK Assembly and the rest of the matters as under UNCIP resolutions lie with Pakistan among other subjects. But contrary to the government’s claim:
It is no doubt an achievement to refresh the Azad Kashmir Interim constitution by extending all fundamental rights from the Constitution of Pakistan to the region filling in some voids in earlier legislations but the narrative sold by the government was that this would lead to greater empowerment of the AJK state, whereas in reality, the matters such as assent for appointment of apex judges, chief election commissioners and chief auditors etc were transferred from the office of the chairman of Kashmir Council to the office of Prime Minister of Pakistan, who was originally the chairman. These matters were previously smoothly run by consensus of the governments respectively but the new amendments implicit expression of this matter that will now solely be forwarded through the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs raises suspicion over the PML-N governments ambitions. All of this, along with the only practical benefit of extending principles of policy, that too with reasonable discernment based on “resources available”, and the much demanded wish of the legislators to transfer the council fund completely to the AJK Assembly, seems to be more sleight of hand and a calculated political move over an actual balanced empowerment of the region.
In this array of disinformation and misrepresentation, it is fundamental to understand Pakistan and AJK’s indispensable nature of relations where a coordinating body in the form of a shared legislature or executive (that may have been amended and adjusted for better convenience within its previous status and ambit) is imperative. The PML-N-backed premier could have made an actual efficient difference in the governance mechanism, instead in the name of empowerment, this amendment takes away the state’s de facto upper house and the forum for direct liaison with Pakistan, instead empowering a single Ministry of Kashmir affairs as a linkage between the region and the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
(The author Hasnat Sheikh is an activist and writer/blogger residing in Azad Kashmir, currently working on right to free compulsory education in AJK)