The ‘Azad Govt’ of Kashmir

This is how the government is known in official communications. A study of governance in Pakistan administered Kashmir makes an interesting case. It is understood that boss in Muzaffarabad is someone else but how government really works is both –best example of governance and worst as well

Who exactly is the government in real sense in Pakistan administered Kashmir continues to be not only a dilemma but also a political trauma for the residents. Where is the Capital: Muzaffarabad or Islamabad?

There are no convincing answers even with those who run the system. If public access to the top representatives of government is anything to determine the quality of governance, Pakistan administered Kashmir, perhaps, offers the best possible example. In Srinagar, someone having cellphone number of Omar Abdullah’s private secretary can flaunt a status of privilege. However, in Muzaffarabad try an alternate passerby chances are that you get cellphone number of Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan. If the person is courteous enough, which is most likely, he may try a call for you. And don’t get surprised if the Prime Minister recognised the caller at once.  That is how accessible the government is. After a more than two-hour long interview this writer had with Sardar Attique in a Muzaffarabad hotel lobby, some officers of the local administration pulled chairs to join the lighter informal chat. Pointing towards Deputy Commissioner of Muzaffarabad district, the Prime Minister said, “See, we are just like a family…there are no protocol hassles involved”. The DC nodded smilingly. As Prime Minister left for his residence, a Revenue Commissioner told this writer, “Did you notice, we are in a real working democracy”. The Commissioner who have had interactions with some of the bureaucrats in Jammu and Kashmir, further said, “Even a clerk sometimes interrupts the Prime Minister to make a point and the Prime Minister takes it”. Something like what is called as Awwami Mulaqat in Jammu and Kashmir, in PaK Sardar Attique has put in place a Friday audience system at mosques. “I, my cabinet colleagues and officers at all levels sit back in the lawns of different mosques every after every Friday prayer and ask people to share their grievances with us one-to-one”, says the Prime Minister. “You won’t find such vibrant democracy anywhere else”, Attique adds with sense of pride.  

But there is something the Prime Minister seeks to cover up while displaying contours of ‘finest democracy’. What do people actually get out of this instant access to the power elite? “Nothing…just a sense of satisfaction that they are close t power”, says a local intellectual who would not like to be named. “It is just a two-day hollow pride and pleasure”, he says. “The power elite enjoys the pleasure of being followed by people and people enjoy the pride of having access to them”, says this keen observer of government. “It is just that we write ‘Azad Government’ but in real sense the Government is Kashmir Council that sits in Islamabad…the local Government is more or less an agency of Islamabad”, he says. When asked to comment, Prime Minister Attique described this as a perception and propaganda. He asks this writer, “Do you know, I directly deal with internal donors and development agencies for projects in Azad Kashmir…I don’t have to get clearance from Islamabad”. “That’s great sir”, this author said in appreciation before asking a question, “Sir, who makes your budget?”  Attique says, “Everything has a well laid down procedure and there is no crossing of lines”. Then, the Prime Minister immediately jumps another piece of information: “I recently got the Carbon Sequestration pact inked without having gone through Islamabad”.  

At the end of a two-day international conference on Kashmir held at Muzaffarabad, the participants were awarded with souvenirs and certificates of participation by University of ‘Azad Jammu Kashmir’. The certificates had signatures of the Chancellor, the President of Pakistan administered Kashmir and the University’s Vice Chancellor. At the farewell dinner that followed, a retired bureaucrat of PaK sarcastically asked as participant “Does your certificate bear signatures of Mr Wattoo”. As participant raised eyes, the bureaucrat added, “Nothing in this region is valid without Wattoo’s stamp of approval”. He was referring to Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. For two days that Wattoo spent in Muzaffarabad he was treated to a lifetime of hospitality and protocol by the PaK government but every local eye had an element of contempt for him. Wattoo is a refined, seasoned, articulate and widely respected Pakistani politician with shrewd strategic acumen. Residents of PaK have nothing personal against him but it is his present position as ‘Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs’ which makes him a much hated ‘Company Bahadur’ equivalent of British India parlance –who is received with a compulsive respect but looked at with natural abhorrence.  Peoples of Pakistan administered Kashmir feel very strongly about the control of Kashmir Council in every sphere of life.

Pakistan administration Kashmir’s annual budget is framed in Islamabad on desks of Kashmir Council and then the PaK Finance Minister reads it out at Assembly in Muzaffarabad. Strange it may sound but the PaK Legislative Assembly is not empowered to amend the constitution or make any laws. “Legislative Assembly is supposed to be a law making body; what is the relevance without those powers”, asks a Kashmiri scholar. The common refrain in the Capital and among the power elite is very interesting: “every decision in matters of Azad Kashmir is sole prerogative of Kashmir Council and the decision, if any, taken in Muzaffarabad has to be got approved from Islamabad for implantation”. Facts are known to everyone from Muzaffarabad to Islamabad but it sounds like music when Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yusuf Raza Gillani addresses Raja Zilqarnain Khan and Sardar Attique Khan like this: “Honourable President and Prime Minister of Azad Government of Jammu and Kashmir”. But there is a simultaneous paradox. In warrant of precedence, the Kashmir Affairs Minister Mian Manzoor Wattoo is superior of Raja Zulqarnain Khan, the President of ‘Azad Government of Jammu and Kashmir”.  

Author is the editor of Epilogue Magazine and can be mailed at epilogue@epilogue.in.
This is the fourth article of nine-part series. The series is part of Rising Kashmir-Epilogue project on Pakistan administrated Kashmir.