Interesting Times in Azad Kashmir 29 July 2013

Interesting Times in Azad Kashmir                                           29 July 2013

There is a saying among some people in Azad Kashmir that ‘The road to ruling in Muzaffarabad passes through Islamabad’. This means that, to be Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir (the capital of which is Muzaffarabad), the aspiring Azad Kashmiri politician must have the approval or imprimatur of the person ruling in Islamabad. This may be a military general or a leading Pakistani politician. It doesn’t matter. He or she—Benazir Bhutto also played this ‘game’—must approve the appointment of the ‘top man’ in Azad Kashmir.

Last week, this maxim again proved to be correct. A no confidence motion against the incumbent Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, was defeated in the 49-seat Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly. Well sort of. From far off Australia, the picture is murky. However, it seems that, on Friday 26 July, those advancing the no confidence motion withdrew it. Nevertheless, on Saturday 27 July, some 17 members—the minimum quorum allowable—attended a special sitting of the Legislative Assembly, voted on, and fortuitously defeated, the no confidence motion. Apparently, 14 of the 17 were members of the ruling Azad Jammu and Kashmir People’s Party (AJKPP). Those absent included disgruntled AJKPP members in the so-called ‘Forward Bloc’, Muslim Conference members and members of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML (N)) faction. The politician in question, Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, also apparently was absent from this vote.

Getting rid of prime ministers is not a new thing in Azad Kashmir. Until the first successful no-confidence motion in 2009, this usually happened at the behest of the person in charge in Pakistan and/or, from the early 1950s, a top official in the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs (or derivations thereof). More recently, in a sign that Azad Kashmir’s political system possibly was maturing, prime ministers have been removed via no confidence motions mounted in the local Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly. Indeed, between 2009-2010, three prime minister were removed this way: in January 2009, Sardar Attique Ahmad Khan lost power to Sardar Mohammad Yaqoob Khan who, in turn, lost power in October 2009 to Raja Muhammad Farooq Haider Khan. To complete the circle, in July 2010, Haider lost power to Attique. All three men are still involved in Azad Kashmiri politics: Attique is a Muslim Conference member of the Legislative Assembly; Yaqoob is the President (titular head) of Azad Kashmir; Haider is leader of both the PML (N) and the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly.

Historically, opponents’ claims for loss of confidence in the serving prime minister often have involved allegations of corruption, nepotism and inefficiency. More recently, some of the claims have appeared to involve a move by a leading politician, and his supporters, in a naked grab for power, privilege and the chance to obtain some of the largesse and acclamation available in the top position and/or as part of the government. In the current case, the intended replacement prime minister was to be Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry, a former prime minister from Mirpur. For reasons of prestige and perceived rightness (only he can appropriately administer the region), Mahmood, it seems, has long aspired to recapturing the local gaddi (throne). The Mirpuri may have believed that he had the support of Islamabad for his push.

So, what’s the big deal or big difference this time? The big deal this time is that the no confidence motion that looked likely to succeed earlier in the week failed, miserably, and, as a result, Chaudhry Majeed, who is from a different political party to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, has been allowed to continue in office. He will do so at least for the next six months. Constitutionally, the successful Legislative Assembly vote on 27 July means that another no confidence motion cannot be presented until this period has elapsed.

The big difference this time was that Nawaz Sharif did not support the no confidence motion, even though it was against someone from another party. Indeed, Sharif ordered members of his party not to support the motion, a factor that may have made them—and all others not wanting to antagonise the Pakistan leader—desist. Sharif apparently believed that Majeed had a mandate and should be allowed to continue in office. However, given that the local PML (N) faction was anti-Majeed and his allegedly corrupt government, it has lost face and considerable popularity. Sharif’s stance suggests that he has matured as a politician. This is a good thing for Pakistan and Azad Kashmir. Nevertheless, it also confirms that the most influential politician in Azad Kashmir is still the top person in Islamabad. Indeed, it reinforces the perception that ‘The road to ruling in Muzaffarabad passes through Islamabad’.

Christopher Snedden
29 July 2013


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