Wednesday September 28, 2022

Free and fair elections of AJK Assembly

July 19, 2021

Head of PPP Media Cell

Opposition leaders’ election campaign in the forthcoming AJK Assembly elections, scheduled to be held this month, is underway attracting huge crowds suggesting wide-spectrum followings of the major opposition political parties throughout the AJK. It might not be so surprising due to their unequivocal, clear and consistent stance on the issue in tandem with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people living on both sides of the LOC. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto during his hectic election campaign of AJK Assembly elections reiterated his party’s traditional and unwavering support for the Kashmiri people, adding it would not let anyone to use it as a bargaining chip to normalise relations with India at the altar of the wishes of the Kashmiri people. The PPP chairman stressed that the solution of issue lied in the UN Security Council resolution reflective of the commitment of the international community to provide an opportunity to the Kashmiri people to decide their political future. He took the PTI leadership to task for its timid support that was not good enough in the face of Modi government’s intransigence rooted in Hindutava. Aseefa Bhutto has picked up the election campaign after the departure of the PPP chairman to the USA and has been addressing the election campaign rallies at various places reiterating that PPP like in the past would continue to stand-shoulder to-shoulder with the Kashmiri brethren in their struggle to self-determination as per vision of Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto.

Evidently, the leadership of ruling elite neither had the ability nor wherewithal, or vision or diplomatic clout to mobilise public opinion both at home and abroad to persuade India to review the unionisation of the IHK and seeking peaceful and negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue as per the Security Council resolution. The Indian government instead of seeking the peaceful resolution of the long standing issue rather opted to embark upon further tightening its control over IHK when it revoked its special status on August 5, 2019 -- during the tenure of PTI government. The belated springing into actin of the government did not prove worthwhile, and sounded like an exercise in futility equating with playing to the gallery. But, the commitment of people of IHK remained unflinching to write their destiny with their own hands and therefore no power in the world could stop them from realizing their dream of “Azadi” no matter how much time it might take. The decision of the Indian government to change the status of the IHK must had resulted in extreme frustration among the Kashmiri people for the time being but had not surely defeated their spirit because the burning of the flame of “Azadi” in their hearts could not be extinguished no matter of the upticking of the harassment, persecution and human rights violations perpetrated by the Indian security forces. The new generation of Kashmiri youth across the board was surely dedicated to the cause. The manifestations of their inimitable courage and the highest level of sense of purpose had been reverberating right across the IHK.

Ironically, the PTI government was found flat-footed, might be guilty of appalling negligence, as revocation of the special status of IHK was in the BJP’s election manifesto. The Pakistan government should have launched a vigorous diplomatic campaign to build pressure on the Indian government at the international stage to bulwark the move to make amendments in the constitution to alter the special status of (IHK). That was the right time to kill the Indian move that would have made the qualitative difference as it was totally against the aspirations of the Kashmiri people, and to the UN Security Resolution that sought the settlement of the Kashmir issue through plebiscite under the supervision of the UN. The UN Security Council in its subsequent meeting after the rescinding of the special status of the IHK confirmed that Kashmir remained in the UN agenda as the disputed issue pending its resolution. It explicitly rejected the Indian unilateral decision to make the territory as the part of the Indian Union. The PTI apathy could not be starker as it lost the right time to pre-empt the Modi government’s juggernaut to unionise the IHK. Timing plays make or break role in diplomacy especially.

How shocking was as even the closest brotherly Arab countries treated Indian unilateral decision as an internal matter of India. The ill-conceived posturing and grandstanding of Pakistan foreign minister to summon the OIC Foreign Ministers Summit on Kashmir issue backfired because it could not be held, and Saudi Arabia got infuriated too considering it as challenge to their standing in the fold of OIC. It was a diplomatic fiasco of appalling proportion by any stretch of imagination. The rest of the world also sought redemption in keeping low while the USA and other major powers, with the exception of China, response was classic case of tinkering around the edges. The “Free World” though urged India to lift curfew imposed on the Kashmiri people and release the detained Kashmiri leaders who decried the Indian decision and vowed to continue their struggle till the restoration of the special status of the IHK. But the ‘civilised world’ did not go beyond that and contended with by issuing mealy-mouthed statements expressing their concern over the deteriorating situation. They obviously accorded primacy to their commercial and strategic interests over the imperatives of international law and the international morality confirming international politicking was subservient to national interests. How unfortunate the international community could not put it foot down even at the conversion of the IHK as ‘an open air jail’ in its entirety?

The bad–mouthing of the PTI Minister Amin Gandapur against Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif, during the election campaign in AJK, must have given the reason to glee to our enemies and to the adversaries of the Kashmiri people because such polarization among the political forces might have harmed the cause of Kashmiri people as it struck in the heart of the national consensus on the Kashmir issue. The minister was visibly so overwhelmed and myopic that he could not think of the implications of his hugely unguarded and irresponsible utterance that had no relevance to the elections and to the Kashmir issue.

The AJK Election Commission’s slapping of ban on his entry in the AJK was the right step to stop politically enraged and misguided elements from polluting the atmosphere in AJK in particular and indeed in the rest of the country in general. The untoward debate in the Parliament on the subject was heart-wrenching for the people and for the Kashmiri people to their collective chagrin.

The country and the Kashmiri people need no enemy when such leaders were part of the incumbent government seeking political mileage by hitting below the belt. The political sagacity seemed in short supply in the rank and file of the ruling party as it was generally perceived as an embodiment lacking objectivity and rationality even on sensitive matters of national importance.

Kashmir issue had been cornerstone of Pakistan’s foreign policy throughout the history of the country. It was therefore incumbent on the ruling party to treat as it such with utmost sense of responsibility and preference. The silence of the government on the conduct of the minister regretfully amounted to endorsement that might surely be deemed as despicable and condemnable demonstrating the trivial party politics considerations seemingly had gone too far. It was not acceptable even by default what to speak of by design. Undoubtedly, the PTI had been playing out all the tricks in the book and outside the book to create fault lines in the country’s political landscape on purpose-- to stay above,--being oblivious of the wisdom ‘those dig well for others only to fall in’. The policy of this kind might inflict irretrievable harm to the country besides bedeviling the image of the country in the international community as collateral.

One wondered as whose cause they had been serving by pushing all other political forces against the wall. Political polarization in the country had indeed come to full circle and now seemingly positioning itself to pay back befittingly to its undertakers. The ‘selectors’ might be repenting of their bidding on the wrong horse. Their choice had seemingly become unbearable liability because the country had been teetering from one crisis to another in perpetuity resulting in the upping of the miseries of the people pertaining to day-to-day life. The dashing of the threshold of their patience might be imminent and so it’s bursting sooner than better.

The state institutions and the federal government may also come clean by assuring the opposition and the people that it will facilitate free and fair elections in AJK keeping in view the sensitivity of the Kashmir issue. The intentions should not only be demonstrated by taking all stakeholders on board but also be seen to have been exhibited to the satisfaction of all the political parties. The allegations of rigging in the polls may surely send wrong signal right across casting aspersions on the country’s ability to deliver on such important and strategic matters of national importance.