Governments formed in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) since 1947 have almost always been at the mercy of Pakistan's federal government. A similar situation exists across the Line of Control (LOC) in Indian-occupied Jammu & Kashmir. Forced by circumstances, the Kashmiris on both sides of the unnatural divide have become pawns in the chessboard of politics played out by Islamabad and New Delhi. Therefore, it came as no surprise when Islamabad backed Sardar Sikandar Hayat Khan to become the new AJK prime minister instead of the independent-minded Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan or his ambitious son Sardar Attiq. The Pakistani authorities also ensured that Major General (Retd) Sardar Mohammad Anwar Khan, a Kashmiri general of the Pakistan Army, would be the next president of the state.
Everybody knows that Sardar Qayyum rather than Sardar Sikandar Hayat is the dominant figure in the Muslim Conference. In fact, they head two rival factions in the party and have been at loggerheads for the past several years. It is alleged that the federal government prompted the two antagonistic MC factions to unitedly fight the recent AJK elections. Until then, they had been bickering and preparing to contest the polls on their own. Their unity enabled the MC to bag 34 percent of the vote and win the majority of seats in the AJK Legislature. Prime minister Barrister Sultan Mahmud Chaudhry's ruling PPP received 22 percent of the vote and had to sit on the opposition benches. The Jamaat-i-Islami trailed in the distant third spot with 8 percent of the popular vote.
Sardar Qayyum and Sardar Attiq have wisely refrained from criticising the Pakistan government for blocking their way from becoming the AJK chief executive. The larger national interest, a term so widely used nowadays to disguise one's political ambitions, was apparently the major factor in prompting them to keep quiet after coming so close to capturing total power in AJK. Or was it the fear of earning the wrath of the Pakistani military regime and exposing themselves to accountability that did the trick and convinced the father-son duo to heed the signals from Islamabad. Being close to deposed prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, Sardar Qayyum knew that he wasn't in President General Pervez Musharraf's good books and it was only prudent on his part to take a back seat, at least for the time-being.
The way Major General Anwar was elevated to the office of the AJK president also explains how the government operates in the state. About to retire from the Pakistan Army, he was brought from nowhere to be made a presidential candidate and before long even Sardar Qayyum and his supporters were rooting for this fellow Kashmiri Sardar. To General Anwar's credit, he fulfilled all the legal and constitutional requirements to emerge victorious in a proper presidential election. But it was an open secret that he won because Islamabad trusted him and wanted him to be the AJK president. His selection also explained that a soldier would always be the first priority for General Musharraf and his fellow generals whenever there is a need to fill an important vacancy. Any civilian Kashmiri picked up as a presidential candidate would have been happy to do Islamabad's bidding but someone who has donned the Pakistan Army uniform and served under General Musharraf was obviously more trustworthy than anyone else. General Anwar was lucky that he was retiring from the Pakistan Army just at the right time and was a Kashmiri, that too from Sardar Qayyum's native Rawalakot.
Analysts such as Mushahid Hussain Sayed believe that the powers that be could attempt to replicate the so-called "Azad Kashmir model" while holding Pakistan's national elections next year. He recently wrote that everything went according to the book when a general was made the AJK president with support from political parties, a moderate man like Sardar Sikandar Hayat was promoted as the prime minister so that he doesn't threaten the status quo in AJK, and unwanted personalities such as Sardar Qayyum were skillfully screened out while choosing candidates for top AJK offices. He is convinced that the "establishment" successfully launched efforts to unite the fractious Muslim Conference to ensure its victory in the parliamentary elections. If the "Azad Kashmir model" is replicated in Pakistan, its implications would be that the military regime could prompt the PML factions to forego their differences and unitedly contest the 2002 assembly elections. At the same time, the unwanted political elements in PML and other parties could be screened out and General Musharraf elected as president with support from political forces represented in parliament.
Mushahid Hussain Sayed's calculations could go wrong or the so-called establishment may come up with a better and safer game-plan in time for the 2002 national elections. But it would be proper to consider how events in AJK influence the minds and hearts of Kashmiris living under Indian occupation and impact on developments across the LOC. It is commonly known that Muslims in the Kashmir valley as well as those in Jammu and Ladakh are overwhelmingly against India and it is one major factor that New Delhi doesn't want a plebiscite whose outcome would go against it. But it would be wrong to assume that opposition to India would automatically translate into a vote for Pakistan. To earn the support of the Kashmiris, Islamabad is required to do a lot more to improve Pakistan's image. How can we expect the Kashmiris not to take into account Pakistan's perennially bad law and order situation, ethnic and sectarian strife, economic problems and political instability while deciding their fate when many Pakistanis themselves are unsure of their country's future? Some Indian Kashmiris also point out that a democratic India provides them space to voice their grievances both from political platforms and in the media. Though it hasn't helped their long-term cause to win the right of self-determination, the Indian government is able to publicise this fact in the world and claim that the Kashmiris are regularly provided opportunities to vote in elections, even if they are rigged, both to the J&K Legislature and India's parliament. In comparison, authoritarian rule in Pakistan is unlikely to inspire sections of the Kashmiri population. Our insistence on the Islamic bond being strong enough to override other considerations has already been proved wrong in the case of East Pakistan. A shared religion is a powerful base on which to build a durable relationship but ignoring other factors, such as democratic freedoms, security and socio-economic development, can be suicidal.
It is indeed impossible to correctly ascertain the wishes of majority of people of Indian-held Jammu & Kashmir. We are often told that Hezbul Mujahideen is the most powerful militant group in the valley or that the freedom-fighters can move about freely, dictate their decrees and call successful strikes. It is also claimed that the All Parties Hurriyet Conference (APHC) represents the aspirations of most Kashmiri Muslims. But it is also a fact that former mujahideen have defected in large numbers to the Indian government and are now actively fighting their former militant colleagues. Informers stalk the freedom-fighters in every village and town despite their targeted killing by the mujahideen. Some people still vote in assembly and panchayat elections in Indian J&K and Dr Farooq Abdullah's National Conference has pockets of support in all parts of the state. We also know that the Hindu majority in Jammu and the Buddhists in Ladakh would never support accession to Pakistan. One remembers a survey conducted by the New Delhi-based English weekly, Outlook, in Indian-occupied Kashmir valley a few years ago which showed that over 70 percent of the Kashmiris would opt for an independent state if given a choice. One can dismiss the findings of the survey but Western journalists returning from the valley increasingly speak of the growing frustration of the Kashmiri people on account of the decade-long violence and the damage it has done to their economy and lives. If true, it could mean that the Kashmiris are becoming alienated from both India and Pakistan, the former for keeping their state under siege with the help of over 700,000 troops and the latter for supporting the mujahideen whose armed struggle breeds more violence.
No doubt Islamabad has got a strong moral cause while demanding implementation of the UN resolutions granting right of self-determination to the Kashmiri people. It is another matter if the hapless Kashmiris cannot be allowed this fundamental human right on account of the permutation and dictates of world politics and due to India's enhanced international position. It is necessary for Pakistan to pursue this elusive goal both at the world stage and in bilateral dealings with India. Beside, Pakistan would do well to put its own house in order and create conditions at home and in Azad Jammu & Kashmir, including its former component now called Northern Areas, so that we are able to attract rather than repel Indian Kashmiris. While we are justified in criticising India for imposing the rule of its puppets on its part of Jammu & Kashmir through sham elections, we should be striving to act differently and democratically in Azad Jammu & Kashmir. We ought to trust our own Kashmiris because none of them, not even the nationalists and progressive elements in JKLF and other groups, can be anti-Pakistan. They are all well-meaning people and all they want is a Kashmir that is shaped in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people instead of remaining forever hostage to Indo-Pakistan rivalry.
This article was published in Jung of Pakistan. The write is Executive Editor, The News, Peshawar.