The Political Oppression in Azaad Kashmir

Azad Kashmir has its own constitution, the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution Act of 1974, and a locally chosen parliamentary form of government. The constitution allows for many of the structures that comprise a self-governing state, including a legislative assembly elected through periodic elections, a prime minister who commands the majority in the assembly, an indirectly elected president, an independent judiciary, and local government institutions.

But these provisions are hollow. Under Section 56 of the Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution Act (which was drafted by the Federal Ministries of Law and Kashmir Affairs in Islamabad), the Pakistani government can dismiss any elected government in Azad Kashmir irrespective of the support it may enjoy in the AJK Legislative Assembly. The Interim Constitution Act provides for two executive forums – the Azad Kashmir Government in Muzaffarabad and the Azad Kashmir Council in Islamabad.

The latter body, presided over by the prime minister of Pakistan, exercises paramount authority over the AJK Legislative Assembly, which cannot challenge decisions of the council. The council is under the numerical control of the federal government in Islamabad, as in addition to the Pakistani prime minister it comprises six other federal ministers, the minister of Kashmir affairs as the ex-officio member, the prime minister of Azad Kashmir, and six Azad Kashmir members elected by the Legislative Assembly.The interim constitution act lists fifty-two subjects – virtually everything of any importance – that are under the jurisdiction of the Azad Kashmir Council, which has been described as the "supra power" by the Azad Kashmir High Court. Its decisions are final and not subject to judicial review.

“The document referred to as the constitution of Azad Kashmir is a sham. It's a biased document. These laws and practices are in contradiction to the pledges made by the government to the international community and the U.N. On the one hand, the PakistanKashmir. The stance and the legislation are simply irreconcilable” government says that U.N. Security Council resolutions must apply. On the other, the constitution prohibits it. We have been and are being persecuted – through arbitrary arrests, torture, curbs on movement, and by being barred from seeking higher education or employment – for simply demanding a third or even a second option for Kashmir" says Shamshad Hussain Khan, an Azad Kashmir Supreme Court lawyer on the constitutional framework of Azaad Kashmir.

The Elections are merely eyewash as the Constitutional head is made in Pakistan with the backing of the intelligence and the military. As the Clause in the laws governing quotes”

No person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to the ideology of the State's accession to Pakistan

It means that a person who is not subscribing the view to choose Independence of Kashmir or even acceding to India will not be able to contest any public office. While as the Pakistan Government wants the Kashmiris to be given the right to self determination

Muhammad Saeed Asad, a Kashmiri nationalist, is the author of numerous books on Kashmiri affairs, and is employed as a social welfare officer in the Azad Kashmir Ministry of Social Welfare and Women's Development when he is not under suspension for writing books to which the government objects. In 2002, he was suspended for writing a book on the Mangla Dam that questioned Pakistan's right to water sources originating in Kashmir. Pakistan has banned three books written by Saeed Asad for being "anti-state and an attempt to promote nationalist feelings amongst Kashmiris." These include Shaur-e-Farda, banned in 1996, which comprises letters written by Maqbool Butt to his friends and relatives over a span of two decades (Maqbool Butt, founder of the JKLF, is a central figure in the Kashmiri nationalist movement.).

No person in Azad Kashmir can be appointed to any government job, including the judiciary, unless he or she expresses loyalty to the concept of Kashmir's accession to Pakistan. The oath of office for the president, prime minister, speaker, member of the legislative assembly or the Azad Kashmir Council also incorporates the following statement: "I will remain loyal to the country and the cause of accession of the state of Jammu & Kashmir to Pakistan

The Human Rights Watch/Asia Says: Power in Azad Kashmir is exercised primarily through the Pakistani army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, just outside Islamabad, and its corps commander based in the hill station of Murree, two hours by road from Muzaffarabad. It is widely understood in Pakistan and privately admitted by virtually all politicians from Azad Kashmir that the corps commander in Murree is known to summon the Azad Kashmir prime minister, president and other government officials regularly to outline the military's views on all political and governance issues in the territory.

A former president of Azad Kashmir described the situation as "[g]overnment of Azad Kashmir, by the Pakistanis, for Pakistan." He also pointed to the striking continuity of the "old princely system" under British rule because of Islamabad's "viceroy" role generally and the maintenance of the traditional biradarisystem locally.

A continuing source of political tension between Kashmiris and Pakistan is over the Mangla Dam project, which affects the waters of the Jhelum and Poonch rivers before they flow into Punjab in Pakistan. Particularly affected is the relatively well-off Mirpuri community in Azad Kashmir (see above), which has increasingly felt a sense of discrimination and economic exploitation by Pakistan because of the project. In a 1991 article, Roger Ballard of the U.K.'s Manchester University explained why:

To Pakistan Mangla is a vital asset which brings many benefits... Mangla is thus critical to the success of the Pakistani economy as a whole. Yet despite the great benefits which Mangla has brought to everyone in Pakistan proper, those unfortunate enough to live immediately upstream of the dam have had... to bear the brunt of its environmental costs.

The debate around the Mangla Dam, though beyond the scope of this report, is notable because of the central role it has played in shaping the Mirpuri disconnect from Pakistan. Pakistan argues that the construction of the Mangla Dam is a consequence of the 1961 Indus Basin treaty between India and Pakistan with the World Bank acting as guarantor. The Azad Kashmiris, particularly the Mirpuris, argue that water is a Kashmiri natural resource commandeered by the Pakistani state to the disadvantage of Kashmiris. This is a key issue fueling calls for Kashmiri independence. The acrimony over the dam continues in Mirpur as the dam is currently being raised.

Chaudhary Arif, the convener of the Mangla Dam Action Committee, a protest group formed to demand better compensation for those affected by the Mangla Dam, told Human Rights Watch,

“Water is our natural resource. Arabs have oil, the Baloch have minerals. Kashmir has water. All of Pakistan uses our water. In the process, there remain acute water shortages in Mirpur from where we can see the dam feeding the palatial homes of Islamabad. Meanwhile, water-borne disease is on the rise in Mirpur and other parts of Kashmir due to scarce water here. We have been uprooted from our homes, not paid adequate compensation and denied royalty while Pakistan and India steal our natural wealth. This is the worst kind of exploitation and colonization”

Excerpts from (With Friends Like These. by The Human Rights Watch)