Only surprise in the sham elections was the choice of Abdul Qayyum Niazi as Prime Minister by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The assembly elections in Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK) concluded on predictable lines, with Pakistan’s ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), winning a comfortable majority. While the outcome was known on the very day when elections were announced, the only surprise was the choice of the prime minister. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan after keeping suspense for days choose a lightweight Abdul Qayyum Niazi to head the government in PoJK.
Khan interviewed a total of five candidates for the post of PoJK premier, including Sardar Tanveer Ilyas, Barrister Sultan Mahmood, Khawaja Farooq, Azhar Sadiq and Abdul Qayyum Niazi. Pakistan premier put various questions to them relating to their future strategy and sought their views on the environment, tourism, economy, national and international affairs, border issues and future strategy. Niazi was not in the run for the coveted post and was only included at the eleventh hour. His surname — Niazi — confuses many who consider him hailing from the tribe of PM Imran. He, however, is from the Mughal community, which is scattered across the PoJK. The frontline candidate for the premiership Barrister Sultan Mehmood Chaudhry was made president of PoJK replacing former career diplomat Masood Khan.
Pakistan calls this territory “Azad Jammu & Kashmir,” thereby implying that its inhabitants enjoy some sort of “liberty” or “freedom.” In this “free” land, it builds an anti-India narrative about the part of Kashmir on this side of the de-facto border.
These elections, however, have exposed the weaknesses of the electoral as well as governance systems. The polls are indicative of the people’s growing anger against the Pakistani establishment as the results have subverted the spirit of democracy. The people feel pushed to the wall and it won’t be long before they start seeking other options. At the moment, these options are amorphous.
During the campaign instead of attending to local issues or promising people basic requirements, Pakistani political parties washed their dirty linen in the pure waters of the rivers of POJK, thus polluting the whole atmosphere. The three major parties, PTI, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML—N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) levelled serious allegations against each other. The campaign centred around personal allegations between Prime Minister Imran Khan and children of political leaders like PML—N leader Maryam Nawaz. Pakistani media used words like “ugliest” and “dirtiest” to describe the campaign rhetoric employed by those figures. Such mudslinging deliberately detracted from the fact that Pakistan has failed in delivering adequately on governance and meeting the basic needs of people there.
Intriguing statement from Imran Khan
The most intriguing part of the campaign was a promise that Prime Minister Imran Khan made to Kashmiri populations east and west of the LoC. If they acceded to Pakistan, he would grant them “independence.” On the surface, it may sound like music to the ears of Kashmiris asking for “Azadi” or freedom.
It places accession to Pakistan as a prerequisite for the next promised step of “independence.” The UN resolutions, which have become the swan songs of all Pakistani political parties, provide for a plebiscite that grants two choices — India or Pakistan. Through such a promise, Imran Khan is changing the contours and contents of the UN resolution of April 21, 1948. Other Pakistani parties took exception to this. To them, the Prime Minister had no business altering the conditions laid out by the resolution. Although India doesn’t deem these terms relevant because much has changed geographically and politically over the past seven decades on both sides of the LoC.
There was another contradiction in PM Khan’s words. That too, considering the condition of POJK’s people. They are yearning for basic facilities and are almost living in medieval times. Hence, the methods of the elections exposed the claims of Pakistan. Khan himself blamed the local government and his political rivals who ruled the territory without doing anything for its people. This amounts to an admission that aside from emotional slogans, POJK received nothing.
Such was acrimony during the election campaign that, Pakistan’s Minister for Kashmir Affairs, Ali Amin Khan Gandapur, was barred from electioneering following his use of foul language against PML—N leader Maryam Nawaz.
The nationalist parties were not allowed to contest the elections under Chapter 5, Section 31 of PoJK Election Act 2020 which slates that any individual /entity propagating any opinion or acting in any manner prejudicial to the ideology of Pakistan, the ideology of State’s accession to Pakistan, the sovereignty/ integrity of Pakistan, security of PoJK, or ridicules the institutions of Pakistan/ PoJK, including armed forces” are not allowed to contest. Further, all legislators are required to submit an affidavit that they would work towards the accession of PoJK with Pakistan. This renders the nationalist/sub-nationalist elements, such as the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), ineligible to participate in the elections, as they demand independence and unification of all parts of J&K.
According to Article 7(2) of the Constitution of PoJK the “President” and the “Prime Minister” of PoJK have to take an oath of loyalty to “the cause of accession of the State with Pakistan”. Further, aspiring candidates are “prescreened” to ensure that only those who support annexation with Pakistan contest elections. Any voice for Rights is suppressed by law enforcement agencies.
Elections under the shadow of gun
First elections in PoJK, based on the universal franchise, were held in 1970 more than two decades after the territory was illegally occupied by Pakistan. Till then, it was run based on Rules of Business by the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and the Northern Areas. Under Zia-ul-Haq, there were no elections in PoJK for eight years. In 1985 elections, political parties were not allowed to participate and candidates had to contest in their capacity.
In contrast in J&K, elections have been held regularly and the local parties such as National Conference (NC), Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) have ruled the state for most of the time since 1947. Further, J&K- based parties including NC and PDP have been representing the state in the Indian Parliament (Lok Sabha).
To manipulate and influence the election in PoJK, the federal government had deployed a large contingent of Army and Para Military forces including 9,000 army personnel, 4,000 Frontier Corps and 2,000 Rangers in the elections. Moreover, officers deployed on election duty were conferred mag1stenal powers.
Interestingly, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) was allowed to contest the election, although the outfit was proscribed under the First Schedule of PoJK Anti-Terrorism Act, 2014. PoJK based Jammu Kashmir United Movement (JKU M), an entity floated by Jamat-ud Daawa (JuD), was also allowed to contest the elections, using ‘Chair’ as election symbol. One of the JKUM programs during the election campaign was addressed by Saifullah Khalid, President-Milli Muslim League (MML), a political wing of JuD. Muhammad Mazhar Saeed, who had been affiliated with Harkat-ul Mujahideen, Jaiah-e-M Muhammad and Taliban, has been elected on PTI ticket for the post reserved for Ulema and Mushaikh (Islamic scholar).
Maryam Nawaz alleged that the PTI won the PoJK polls through rigging rejected the results of the elections. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also expressed concern over the violence and allegations of malpractices and demanded a fair and transparent investigation.
Nationalist parties excluded in polls
The JKLF and its student wing Jammu Kashmir Students Liberation Front and other pro-freedom activists had called on the people of PoJK to boycott the elections, terming the exercise as “drama”. They organized protest rallies in the Bagh and Chattar areas of PoJK on Jun. 27 and urged people to stand up against the atrocities committed by Pakistan in the region. The PT! was accused of using unfair means such as offering financial inducements to lure voters. A formal enquiry was also launched by PoJK Election Commissioner against Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs Ali Amin Khan Gandapur on allegations of offering money to voters and imposed a ban on electioneering by him in PoJK.
J. Human rights violations are rampant including cases of enforced disappearances, murder, detentions and custodial deaths of civil rights activists/journalists/ Nationalist group’s activists under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997. There are also restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. The nationalist leaders are subjected to torture and imprisonment and demonstrations are persecuted and kept on constant surveillance. Some of these activists have been charged with sedition and face long per trial/ convictions.