Going to the Polls


Finally, the widely watched poll exercise in the state of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJ&K) has come to an end. Barring a few unpleasant incidents of violence, the poll process was by and large peaceful. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), one of the main contesting parties, emerged victorious, grabbing 26 out of total 45 directly contested seats whereas the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (N) secured 11 and 6 seats respectively.

Over 3.2 million voters used their franchise to elect a 53-member assembly for a five-year term. Out of 53 seats, elections are held on 45, while eight seats are reserved for women, technocrats, and religious scholars. Out of 45, 12 seats are reserved for Kashmiri refugees who had migrated from the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir since 1947 and are settled in various parts of Pakistan. More than 400 candidates from 32 political and religious parties have been in the fray for general seats. Out of four hundred plus candidates, 20 women candidates contested elections from general seats. The massive turnout of above 50 per cent in the elections is indeed an obvious manifestation of the people’s confidence in democracy and the democratic system.

60fb76f93e519 edited | Insight from Narratives Magazine
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI emerged victorious in the Kashmir elections, where mainstream national politics took centre-stage at the expense of local issues.

The peaceful conduct of polls and transition of power from one democratically elected government to another is no doubt a healthy and welcome development that would certainly go a long way in strengthening democracy and democratic institutions in the state. Continuity of democratic process in the region and a policy of non-interference long held by Islamabad to allow people to exercise their right to vote in a congenial atmosphere, free from political and institutional interventions, is rightly hailed by independent observers as a good omen for political stability, peace and socio-economic development of the region.

The landmark elections would have far-reaching impact not only on AJ&K’s socio-political landscape but also on the other side of the ceasefire line — where India has been holding sham polls aimed at creating a smokescreen to mislead the international community.

The parliamentary system was introduced in AJ&K under the AJ&K interim Constitution Act, 1974, which has undergone about 13 amendments so far. Earlier in 1974, the Assembly consisted of 40 members, elected on the basis of adult franchise and two co-opted lady members, whereas the Assembly now consists of 41 elected members and 8 co-opted members of which five are ladies, one member from Ulema-e-Mushaikh, one from amongst Jammu & Kashmir technocrats and other professionals, and another from amongst Jammu and Kashmir nationals (state subjects) residing abroad.

photo 2021 07 12 21 21 53 edited | Insight from Narratives Magazine
The Kashmiri diaspora in New York commemorates Kashmir Martyr’s Day at Times Square on 13 July, 2021.

Since the introduction of the parliamentary system, the elections have been held many times. The previous elections have largely proven a two-party contest but this is the first time that a triangular contest between three major mainstream political parties generated a great deal of enthusiasm and interest amongst the masses, and led to massive participation of the masses in election rallies.

The charged poll campaign that should have been used as a means to build a strong narrative on Kashmir and debate the most pressing issues confronted by the people of Kashmir has unfortunately left behind a trail of hatred that would take years to wipe out. During the elections, the local leadership was completely overshadowed by Pakistan’s top political leadership who remorselessly took mainstream Pakistani politics to the region.

Rather than talking on the real issues, the politicians from three big parties were seen recklessly hurling allegations at each other. The tone and tenor of speeches, the loathsome attacks on rivals and the mudslinging was, to say the least, ridiculous.

The word Kashmir and the problems faced by the people of the State (AJ&K) have hardly figured in the election campaign, which was heavily dominated by the leadership of the top three political parties. Allegations of a ‘sell-out’ of Kashmir were frequently levelled without any substantiation. Even charges of treason were bandied about callously and disgusting remarks were made against rivals.

Usually, in democratic societies election campaigns are run by the contesting parties on the merits of their performance and election manifestos that spell out the respective parties’ future strategy vis-a-vis governance, development and socio-economic uplift of the people.

It was expected that at the local level, AJK political parties and their leadership would be given a free hand to run election campaigns on the merits of their performance and election manifestos, but, alas, it did not happen. To the contrary, the campaign was virtually hijacked by the Pakistani politicians, who through their own brand of politics further polluted the region’s fragile political environment that remains heavily dominated by casteism, tribalism and regionalism.

Had they been allowed to run the campaign on their own it would have, to a large extent, minimised the adverse impacts of political polarisation in AJ&K and its ramifications for the ongoing freedom struggle.

Pertinently, the politics of polarisation and hatred at the local level has cast a dark shadow on our diaspora community. Instead of working as a single unit, the Kashmiri diaspora stands divided into many groups and units. This fragmentation on the basis of ideology has severely undermined the potential of the Kashmiri diaspora. The lack of unity and concurrence in the rank and file of the diaspora has been a stumbling block in the way of building a strong case to counter India’s concocted and baseless narrative on Kashmir. Despite a huge and vibrant diaspora, we have not been able to achieve the desired results.

As far as the unity of the diaspora community is concerned, it is the prime responsibility of the leadership of Pakistani and AJK political parties to demonstrate magnanimity, shun their differences and disband their overseas units. That would certainly pave the way for the much-needed unity of the diaspora.  Pakistan has a huge and vibrant diaspora all across the globe. The Pakistani and Kashmiri diaspora communities settled all across the US, the UK, Europe and Middle East countries can play a significant role in galvanising the international community’s support for the Kashmir cause, provided that they behave and act like one unit and one nation. The PTI’s top leadership, which enjoys a great deal of influence over the Pakistani and Kashmiri diaspora communities, can play an important role in this regard.

Now that the PTI has formally taken the reins of power in AJK, it is hoped that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision for Kashmir would remain a subject of prime importance for the new government. It is also expected that the government would engage all stakeholders including Hurriyat and the diaspora community to devise a comprehensive mechanism to promote and project the Kashmir cause at the international level in a befitting manner.

Altaf Hussain Wani edited | Insight from Narratives Magazine
Altaf Hussain Wani
The writer is Chairman, Kashmir Institute of International Relations (KIIR), Islamabad. He is a member of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, AJK chapter.

Altaf Hussain Wani
Altaf Hussain Wanihttp://narratives.com.pk
The writer is Chairman, Kashmir Institute of International Relations (KIIR), Islamabad. He is a member of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, AJK chapter.
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