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July 16, 2018

Eyeing Kashmiri vote bank, AJK premier rallies for PML-N in Karachi


July 16, 2018

AJK Prime Minister Raja Muhammad Farooq Haider (3rd from left) on stage during a seminar to seek support for PML-N in Karachi. Photo by author 

With their sights set on the Kashmiri vote bank, all major political parties vying for seats from the metropolis have stepped up electioneering in localities having a sizeable population of Kashmiris ahead of the July 25 polls.

In recent days, the Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party have invited prominent party leaders from Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) to the city to woo Kashmiri voters, and have also activated their Kashmir wings for their election campaigns in Kashmiri-populated neighbourhoods.

On Sunday, AJK Prime Minister Raja Muhammad Farooq Haider along with his ministers arrived to the city from Muzaffarbad to speak at a seminar held to discuss the issues of the Kashmiri diaspora in Karachi. However, the main purpose of the officials’ visit was to influence the Kashmiri community to support their party – the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, whose candidates need their votes in some constituencies.

Sardar Shiraz Khan, the Sindh and Balochistan president of PML-N’s AJK chapter, had organised the seminar in the city’s Kalapul neighbourhood. PML-N candidates Saleem Zia, who is contesting from NA-246, Shah Muhammad Shah, who is contesting from NA-238 and former federal finance minister Miftah Ismail, who is contesting from NA-244 – three constituencies with a significant Kashmiri population – also attended the gathering which saw participation from a large number of Kashmiris living in the neighbouring Kashmir Colony, Akhtar Colony, Kalapul and Cantonment station colony.

“The Kashmiri community in Karachi should support the PML-N candidates to open doors of progress and development not only in Pakistan but also in AJK,” said AJK PM Haider at the event.

The PPP’s AJK chapter has also organised several gatherings in various neighbourhoods, including Akhtar Colony, to muster support from the Kashmiri community, while the JI AJK chief and member of AJK Legislative Assembly, Abdul Rasheed Turabi, had also visited Karachi last week and attended the party’s gatherings scheduled for the Kashmiri community.

Vote bank

Although there are no official statistics available about the Kashmiri community living in Karachi, an Election Commission of Pakistan official, who was involved in the 2016 AJK Legislative Assembly polls in two AJK constituencies home to Kashmiri diaspora living in Karachi and other parts of the country, said that the community’s votes in some areas play a key role in winning the elections.

Kashmiris are scattered throughout the city – in Manzoor Colony, Kashmir Colony, Neelam Colony, Cantonment Station, Lyari, Korangi Crossing, Orangi Town, Sultanabad, Baldia Town, Landhi Industrial Area, Shershah and Nursery. Most of these localities have Kashmiri Mohallahs.

However, community leaders say that many Kashmiris in Karachi moved back to AJK or Rawalpindi and Lahore in the last seven years because of the violence in the city.

All major political parties and Kashmiri nationalist parties have their organisational set-ups in the city and regularly arrange Kashmir Day celebrations, commemoration of the anniversaries of Kashmiri leaders including Maqbool Butt and other activities in these areas.

AJK Legislative Assembly polls

For the most recent AJK Legislative Assembly (LA) elections, conducted in July 2016, the Karachi chapters of political parties had become active in Kashmiri-populated neighbourhoods to win the two seats reserved for the community members and refugees living in Sindh – LA-30 and LA-36.

The LA-30 (Jammu-I) is a constituency reserved for Kashmiris from AJK and comprises the entire Sindh province and five divisions of Punjab. PML-N candidate Nasir Dar, who is based in Lahore, won LA-30 by bagging 5,688 of the total 26,198 votes, while Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s Sardar Maqsood Zaman ranked second by bagging 1,816 votes.

The LA-36 (Kashmir Valley-I) is a constituency reserved for Kashmiris from Indian-occupied Kashmir who had migrated in 1940s and 1950s. PPP’s Sardar Aamir Ghaffar Lone bagged 1,320 out of the total 4,385 votes to emerge as the winner on this seat.

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