in a tug of war
Let’s take a look
at the statute books, which should govern much of life in the country and how
it is led.
But in reality these laws
have little to do with life as it is led. In fact there appears to be no
relationship at all when one looks at the reality for women. The distance
between the pieces of paper on which the laws are written out and the manner
in which women are actually treated is so vast it would span entire oceans
and continents if drawn up as a map.
The legislation on women,
most notably that passed since 2008, under the PPP government, offers levels
of protection that exceed those available in most other third world
countries. The remarkable breakthroughs made, in several cases as a direct
result of efforts by advocacy groups, have been acknowledged by UN Women and
other international organisations. Never before in our history have women —
as far as the law goes — had quite so many rights as they do today.
When we look back over the
past months, the achievements have been remarkable. This year on
International Women’s Day, 8th March, the President of Pakistan signed the
National Commission on the Status of Women Bill 2012 into law. This gave the
Commission, the status of which had been under some doubt following
devolution under the 18th Amendment, a new degree of autonomy in financial
and administrative matters. The change of course means the NCSW is now better
able to investigate violations against women and take measures to put into
action recommendations made over many years.
A law against sexual
harassment at the workplace, which the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment or
AASHA, a group of NGOs campaigning for the legislation, had advocated for
years was passed in 2010. A few years previously, the Shaukat Aziz-led
government had refused to pass the law, arguing it would be ‘misused’ by
working women. The code of conduct laid out under the law is being monitored
by a watch committee formed by the NCSW in 2010, with representatives from
the government, civil society and UN Women making it up. An unstinting
advocacy effort by AASHA has meant more and more organisations have adopted
In 2011, the Prevention of
Anti-Women Practices Bill became part of the country’s law, specifically
recognizing practices from acid violence and forced marriage to so-called
‘honour killings’ as criminal acts. The law also offers protection and
legal action for victims. The legislation, which had been pending for three
years, makes practices such as ‘swara’ and ‘vani’ non-bailable
offences and also prescribes tough penalties for other acts, including
depriving a woman of her inheritance, forced marriage or ‘marriage’ to
the Holy Quran.
During the same year, the
Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention (Amendment) Bill was passed in the
Senate on December 2011 laying down rules for how the State should punish
offenders and support victims of acid attacks.
But have these laws made
any real difference? The answer certainly seems to be in the negative. A
recently published Thomas Reuters Foundation poll of gender specialists
states that in 2011 Pakistan ranked third out of countries in the world where
women face extremely high levels of violence and discrimination based on
Figures from monitoring
groups back this. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan noted there had
been 943 reported cases of ‘honour’ killings in 2011. The actual figure
could of course be higher. Other groups estimate at least 1,000 cases of rape
occur each year; again the real number could be much more with the crime
still under reported due to stigma.
NGO estimates also state
two women suffer physical abuse every hour somewhere in Pakistan while the
horrible death in March this year of acid burn victim Fakhra Yunus, who
jumped to her death from her 12th storey apartment in Rome, over a decade
after her face had been horribly disfigured in an attack, reminds us of the
trauma such crimes inflict. Fakhra had undergone 38 surgical procedures.
Cases of acid attacks, mutilation, burning and torture continue to be
reported from across our country. In fact, acts of violence against women
seem to be growing.
frustration, rooted in growing economic crisis could be a factor in this. The
virtual collapse of our criminal justice system is another. Police personnel
have too often committed rape themselves; local administrations have failed
to protect women — and as a result faith in the entire system has broken
down. In fact the rule of law itself has crumbled.
The case earlier this month
in Khanewal, where a young mother of five was stoned to death after refusing
a landlord’s advances is an example. The Supreme Court, which took suo motu
notice of the incident, rejected the police report and rebuked the force for
failing to apprehend the thugs who murdered the woman. In such a situation,
new legislation written out and passed by Parliament means very little on its
own. Indeed few people, even law enforcers lower down the hierarchal order,
even know that it exists — with other priorities determining how they act.
So, what is to be done? How
do we change things on the ground. We should remember that legislation cannot
be effective immediately. It is often only a first step towards ushering in
change and creating the awareness needed to bring it about. Laws tabled a
year or so ago cannot be expected to make an instant difference. This
difference will come only if the laws are combined with steps to actually
implement them, by ensuring local officialdom follows what they say and also
by doing far more than simply drafting bills.
Much more work is needed to
empower women by offering them education, opportunities for employment and
guarding their status as equal citizens so that they are in a stronger
position to fight back against violence inflicted upon them. Until this can
happen, until a real effort is made at the government level to make it happen
there will be very little real change at all no matter how many laws are
placed on the books.
Red and green flags
projecting out of windows on a common street are the remains of a glorious
Irish tale. Catholics and Protestants coexist today in hopes of prosperity
In 1998, Irish history made
a turning point, in the light of the Good Friday Agreement. Up to this very
day it sets a precedent for all conflict regions, including Pakistan, and
lightens hope in the world and deep within our hearts that one day even we
will be at peace, globally, locally, and individually.
The ideas of peace and
violence are not restricted to international boundaries, in fact the two can
be found in our own countries, localities, societies, and individual selves.
Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Balkhi (popularly known as Maulana Rumi the love poet)
once wrote, “Out beyond the ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is
Seeds of Peace
International camp (since 1993), situated in Maine USA, makes the ‘field’
that Rumi refers to. Every year campers from Pakistan, India, Afghanistan,
America, Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, and Israel gather, from conflict regions,
to overlook predisposed opinions, share perspectives and personal stories
without a mediator, and engage in healthy dialogue in order to give the
‘enemy’ a face.
This year while the life
changing programme in USA was still in bloom, as a follow-up 60 campers,
including myself, flew to Ireland for the first ever Game Changers
Multinational Programme. I still remember reading my acceptance letter with
exceeding rapture, “Though the goals for each of the programmes are
different, all are based on the importance of community action, leadership
development, and individual empowerment.”
So these are the qualities
which the programme sought to imbue us with. A seed (member of the
organisation) once said, “We can’t change what we are, but we can change
the way we live already, we can take our lives in our hands once again, we
can move from a position as a viewer of this game to a player. We are no more
asked to watch; we can make a change.” Hence the name Game Changers.
The Irish conflict of the
1900s, which maimed hundreds of people long ago, still remains alive in the
livid veins of the Irish people.
We as seeds were stepping
aside from our own conflicts and analysing from an impartial vantage point,
the long process which led to establishing and maintaining peace in Ireland,
so that we could somehow apply our findings in our local and cross-border
disputes back home. Our week-long stay in the Republic of Ireland comprised
workshops (which revolved around media influence, foreign intervention,
resource division, and civic and human rights), seminars and even city tours.
Behind the vivacity of the
emerald green rolling plains and the spiritually engrossing skies, lie
stories untold and feelings unshared. During the course of that week, I was
given the opportunity to look beyond the obvious through the eyes of the
people who had experienced history being made. I met with former members of
the Ulster Defense Association, Republican Parliamentarians, former Loyalist
combatants, NGO workers, and most importantly, Catholic Nationalists and
from various sects, that in the past had developed a repugnant hatred for
each other, sit on the same table, voicing their diverse and sometimes
clashing opinions, was a marvel. In a single moment of realisation, it hit me
that the Irish were and were not at ‘peace’, because there are various
aspects to the term. One dwells in the material world and the other in the
world of the mind and heart. The layman might not be a major contributor to
the former, but is indeed a primary stakeholder in the latter.
Hence, juxtaposing various
narratives, within the purview of the multinational, made me understand the
true value of identity, struggle, power, and peace. Two statements made by a
Catholic community service worker, John, were forever imprinted on my mind,
“Love your neighbour like yourself,” and, “In order to understand
peace, you need to understand war.”
The former sets the
prerequisite for respecting ‘your neighbour’, as respecting
‘yourself’. It acknowledges and understands the identity and ambitions of
one’s own community as integral to peace development. If one does not know
who they are, and what they are fighting for, life would be submerged in
The latter speaks of how
problem solving takes root in two soils — violence and peace.
Both options need to be
studied and explored and only then will respect for one option overwhelm the
other. Peace and compromise definitely being the harder road to take, but as
Robert Frost, a famous American poet, aptly puts it:
“Two roads diverged in a
wood and I,
I took the one less
And that has made all the
Another captivating sight
in Northern Ireland was the titanic mural art on facades of edifices
throughout Derry and Belfast. Art superseded words as a more effective and
less terse means of public expression and voiced the stances of the people.
Here I remember viewing a number of paintings depicting the suffering of the
Palestinian people. It is instinctive nature to empathise with an entity akin
to your own, and here the Catholics were empathising with the Palestinians.
Finding the similarities between the Middle Eastern and Irish conflict not
only indulged seeds into deep thought, but also rekindled hope within the
people that an almost impractical idea of a peaceful Middle-East, could be
The programme was a truly
endearing experience. I met with people who had actively participated in
armed struggle, and even those who had lost loved ones in a tragic history.
But currently all had put away personal biases and were working tirelessly to
attain a better tomorrow because they realised war had only resulted in blood
and loss. “We stopped fighting because we realised we could not kill all
the Catholics,” said Tommy, a former UDA member. Whichever way this
statement is construed, at the end of it, the futility of war and fighting is
Lastly but most
importantly, ‘work for peace’ does not only pertain to a high government
level. What we as a nation need to realise is that every brick in the wall
makes the foundation of a building stronger. Every individual needs to
contribute to society, within the purview of their own ability. A student’s
best weapon is education, a doctor’s is medicine, and a farmer’s is his
shaft. A stable progressing society is in essence a peaceful society. As for
wanting to make a difference, unity, faith, discipline is all it takes.
Seeds of peace.
We have passed the
two-third mark in this blessed month of Ramzan, and Pakistan is still
functioning. Well, barely, but then that’s how it functions during the rest
of the year, and so if we can stay the course by abandoning the ship’s
control, we couldn’t be doing any wrong.
It gives a lie to the
complaints of laziness, tardiness, truancy, bad temper and foul odour
associated with the faithful during the fasting month. It is true nothing
ever gets done, from a signature to a field visit to sitting for eight hours
in an air-conditioned office, but we still profit from it. God’s will
manifests in strange ways.
The day-to-day life comes
to a standstill during Ramzan. If at all anything moves, it moves like a
severely malnourished snail. If something wasn’t done a few days before the
sighting of Ramzan moon, it won’t be done till ten days after sighting of
the Shawwal moon. We are not too keen on work in normal times, and we become
decidedly and ferociously anti-work during Ramzan. No one works or expects
others to work. The only activity allowed during the day is looking for
fast-eaters — as the non-fasters are called in Urdu — and beating them to
a pulp; and during the night, playing tape-ball cricket. No exceptions.
That leaves a lot of hours
of doing nothing. Pakistanis fill this vacuum by being obsessive about
religion. They buy and sell everything from ghee and fast food to mobile
phone ringtones and laundry soap in the name of religion. Pharmacies remove
condoms from the shelves and replace them with antacid tablets, with
‘halal’ written large on the packaging. Banks launch products that are
hundred per cent shariah compliant. People are frequently seen reading
religious script in a language they do not understand.
In the market, shops open
and close at will. If you find one open chances are the shopkeeper is away
for prayers, or generally not interested in doing business. The bootlegger
won’t answer his phone because he is using Ramzan to wash himself of the
sins of bootlegging accumulated in the previous 11 months. Electricians and
plumbers will take up a job that requires an hour of work and they’ll do it
at the pace of five minutes a day. Do your own math.
And what happens when we
stop working as a nation? We eat a lot, we rest a lot, and we prosper. For
every rupee lost in bootlegging business, there’s ten to be made in selling
Khairpur’s dates presented as those from Makka-Madina. One shopkeeper in
Islamabad’s Rana Market is selling samosas worth three lakh rupees, every
day. The greasy and unhealthy fast food sells just as fast. The
arteries-clogging jalaibi is sold and bought by the tonnes every day. Does
all this economic activity point to a dysfunctional nation?
Take healthcare. Except for
issues of overeating, Pakistanis are cured of everything else, particularly
hypertension which is our national ailment for the rest of the year. Plain
observation shows that the widely recurring sources of high blood pressure
are: TV, politicians, religious leaders, and your interaction with a
government or private agency to get something done. Since all politicians and
lawyers are on holiday, all bureaucrats spend the Ramzan praying at home, all
private employees consider it their right not to work whether or not they are
fasting… there is nothing that can be, or is expected to be done during
Ramzan, you chill and yours and everyone else’s blood pressure stays
With your health and wealth
in order, happiness only follows. That is the true blessing of Ramzan. And
once you get used to this annual bonanza, you could take it with you
everywhere, even to Olympics. In London, Pakistan’s hockey team is
humiliated with a 7-0 defeat at the hands of Australians, and with it is
drowned the only hope for winning a medal. Muslim women in track events —
visibly different because of the covered head and full body clothing — fall
miles behind the second last runner, but is anyone complaining? The athletes
were fasting, that’s why they lost, is the ready-made answer. They may have
lost a piece of metal, but they won Ramzan blessings.
If there is one lesson we
can learn from our Ramzan experience, it is this: Work and anything sporty or
feisty that requires work, is bad. It causes innumerable diseases and makes
us all unhappy. The path to eternal happiness and worldly riches is paved
with reminders for us to apply Ramzan work ethics all year round.
The Free and
Compulsory Education Bill, 2011, is the latest manifestation of the
government’s efforts to universalise education in Pakistan. The slow and
hardly effectual progress made in the past few years in attaining this goal,
however, has seriously undermined the credibility of these attempts. One
questions the potency of the proposition that free and compulsory education
will be provided to all children between the ages of five and sixteen, when
the current government cannot even ensure a steady supply of water or
electricity, among multiple other things, to its population.
Pursuant to the 18th
Amendment, the subject of education was delegated to the provinces. Moreover,
the insertion of Article 25-A in the Constitution made free and compulsory
education for all children between the ages of five and sixteen a fundamental
right. Prior to this, jurisprudence on the right to education stemmed from
the right to life, and was governed by Article 37 (b) of the Principles of
Policy. Article 25-A makes the right to free and compulsory education a
jusiticiable right, implying that a positive obligation is imposed on the
state to provide free and compulsory education.
The Free and Compulsory
Education Bill, 2011, was passed in Senate on July 9, 2012. However, this law
only governs the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), and as per the
legislators, it seeks to serve as an example to the provinces for
promulgating similar laws.
According to the Bill‚
every child shall have the right to free and compulsory education, which will
be exempt from costs of school books, stationary and transport. The Bill also
highlights the obligations of the state. Responsibilities include ensuring
availability of schools in every neighbourhood, teacher training, monitoring
the quality of education, and the provision of infrastructure facilities.
More recently, a 20-member
commission was constituted to work in collaboration with UNESCO to draft
legislation tailored for the provinces, and to formulate implementation
mechanisms for the effective enforcement of this right.
seriously impede the government’s ability to make provisions for free and
compulsory education, and the government has repeatedly excused itself thus.
Yet the Punjab government itself has only allocated 4 per cent of its total
budget for education for the financial year 2012-13. In contrast, Sindh and
Balochistan have allocated approximately 20.3 per cent and 12.5 per cent,
respectively, of their budgets for education. Apart from the alternative
funding sources suggested below, it is imperative that the budget allocation
for education not only be maintained, but be significantly increased. This
should be the top priority as the Punjab government with its slogans of a
‘parha likha Punjab’, should be paving the way for the other provinces.
Taking these constraints
into consideration at an earlier stage, the provincial governments should
formulate alternative funding sources. The 18th Amendment has allowed great
powers to the provinces to generate revenue — albeit beset by capacity
issues — which it should avail. Currently, a 10 per cent education cess is
levied under the Punjab Finance Act, 2011, on club membership and services.
The tax-net can be widened by taxing other leisure activities and services,
such as services rendered by restaurants.
Clearly this source will
not be sufficient to bear the burden of providing free and compulsory
education, and learning from the failed experience of the Iqra surcharge, it
would perhaps be best that the government establishes a separate trust fund
by way of legislation. The Universal Service Fund (USF) established by the
Pakistan Telecom Act (PTA) ought to serve as a good model. Other sources may
include financial incentive schemes and special equity grants by the federal
The emergence of private
schools, which have commercialised education to an absurd degree by charging
exorbitant fees, should also be regulated. Many private schools have
expressed their willingness to accept such regulations only if they are
offered concessions, such as tax breaks. Legislation which regulates private
school fee scales may also be considered. Regulatory legislation was adopted
by the state of Tamil Nadu in India, which boasts one of the highest literacy
rates in the country.
After the Tamil Nadu
Schools (Regulation of Collection of Fee) Act, 2009, came into force, the
state government constituted a committee to regulate and determine fee
structures in private schools on the basis of factors such as the locality of
the school, the strength of students, status of schools with regard to their
infrastructure, and authorised it to access their financial records. Although
multiple petitions were filed challenging the constitutionality of this Act,
the Indian Supreme Court dismissed them and held that the committee simply
provided a framework for charging fees to ensure there was no profiteering.
Moreover, the schools could forward a fee structure to the committee for
regarding regulation of private schools is that they make fiscal
contributions, or reserves seats, or do both. Section 10 of the Free and
Compulsory Education Bill, 2011, necessitates that private schools provide
free education in return for grants or reserve seats for ‘disadvantaged
children’. The definition of ‘disadvantaged children’ needs to be more
nuanced. Nevertheless, the assimilation of these students within the student
body will be problematic and is likely to have negative repercussions on the
educational experience of the child.
A permanent implementation
commission must be established, and it is also imperative that a neutral
monitoring body be constituted.
In order to optimise the
effectiveness of the measures taken, it would perhaps be best to observe and
analyse the implementation of analogous laws in the context of India, which
has a similar post-colonial state structure.
Our legislation also
borrows heavily from the Indian Right to Education Act, 2009. Oft-cited
implementation challenges in India include poverty and child labour — the
outcomes of an entrenched class structure. Amid rampant poverty, it is only
reasonable to deduce that food, clothing and shelter will be prioritised over
education, and children would rather earn than spend time acquiring an
education which might not have much relevance to their circumstances. This
leads to the other issue of inappropriateness of curricula.
The government may choose
to resolve these issues in multiple ways, an example of which is setting up
special schools for working children which accommodate their working hours.
The differing educational boards within Pakistan are another matter which the
government has to tackle while ensuring the quality and accessibility of
While the goal of an
‘educated Punjab’, or for that matter an educated Pakistan, has remained
elusive so far and continues to remain a complex task, it is now upon the
government to take affirmative action by making education accessible and
country’s largest charity organisation — Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer
Hospital & Research Centre — from the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz’s
propaganda,” is the latest appeal of cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan
to the chief justice of Pakistan.
While refuting PML-N
allegations against his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Khan publicly
requested the chief justice to take up this matter immediately as
“elections are near and the PML-N wants to run its whole campaign by
targeting the hospital.” He fears the PML-N can go to the extent of
destroying the SKMH projects only to achieve its political objectives.
On the other hand, the PML-N
is also faced with intra-party conflicts as veteran politicians are voicing
their grievances to get importance before the coming general elections.
blame game and bringing corruption scandals of opponents to the fore are the
favourite propaganda tools of politicians before general elections. The three
major political parties —PPP, PML-N and PTI — are facing this situation
where there are many rifts and diverse opinion within the parties with the
threats of shifting loyalties. Besides, these parties seem to be planning
organised propaganda campaigns against each other to win votes in the
upcoming general elections.
The PTI, in another recent
breakthrough, managed to win over Afzal Sindhu, the PPP parliamentarian,
hoping to transform the political scene in south Punjab. The possible reasons
behind Sindhu’s joining the PTI are alleged humiliation of the MNA at the
hands of some party colleagues, say some insiders. However, Sindhu is keeping
mum about the reasons behind leaving his old party and joining the PTI.
In another development, the
PML-N’s old guard, senator Zulfiqar Ali Khan Khosa, along with his
controversial son Dost Muhammad Khosa, the stopgap chief minister of the
Punjab before Shahbaz Sharif took over as the Punjab CM
has resigned from the party membership over some differences.
Khosas, again from south
Punjab, are said to be the keys for victory in Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur
because of their decades-old political and tribal influence. Insiders say
that Khosa, who defended the PML-N during the Musharraf regime when Sharifs
were in exile, is now having less say than others such as Rana Sanaullah.
Moreover, junior Khosa,
surrounded by controversies like manipulating the kidnapping followed by
killing of film actress Sapna Khan and the misuse of authority when he was
the stopgap CM and a minister in the Sharif cabinet, is said to be the major
reason behind emerging differences between Shahbaz Sharif and Zulfiqar Khosa.
Putting the continuing
blame game between the PML-N and the PTI in perspective, political analyst
Suhail Warraich thinks, “It seems we are going into the election mode
gradually. “These allegations and political shifting happen ahead of every
general election to gain popularity and strength.”
He predicts more
politically vibrant situation in the coming weeks as the allegations and
mudslinging by the mainstream political parties have become a culture of the
However, Warraich says,
these kinds of personal character assassinations are not in good taste and
“all the mainstream parties should formulate a strong code of conduct
barring distasteful mud-slinging.”
This is not the first time
that the PML-N and the PTI have engaged in war of words. Raza Rumi, political
and development analyst, says these parties are reentering the 1990s politics
Rumi thinks this negative
campaign will intensify as the general elections are near because the PTI is
affecting the PML-N in urban constituencies in the Punjab.
After a long and
nerve-shaking power struggle between the government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir
(AJK) and the Kashmir Council, headed by a federal minister in Islamabad, the
AJK government had removed Accountability Chief Justice Hussain Mazhar Kaleem.
The decision triggered
severe criticism from the opposition parties as well as civil society and
vernacular press. Justice Kaleem had initiated investigation against some of
the federal bureaucrats, serving with the Kashmir Council, allegedly involved
in corruption and financial embezzlement. It was unprecedented in the history
of AJK that a local officer issued arrest warrants for some of the senior
bureaucrats and top official of the Kashmir Council. It was widely applauded
as a right step towards the establishment of transparent governance in the
To frustrate the move,
Prime Minister of Pakistan Raja Pervez Ashraf, being chairman of the Kashmir
Council, upper house of the AJK, jumped into the fray and issued an advice to
AJK President Sardar Muhammad Yaqoob Khan to promulgate an ordinance seeking
immunity for the Kashmir Council from the local accountability laws. The move
was initially resisted by the local PPP government but, within days, it
succumbed to the federal government’s pressure and removed Justice Kaleem.
The row started when
Accountability Bureau Chief Justice Kaleem sought clarifications and
documents on corruption cases. The Council’s secretariat, based in
Islamabad, refused to provide the documents — or even appear before the
bureau. It also questioned the jurisdiction of the AJK Accountability Bureau
on the affairs of Kashmir Council which is a part of the AJK constitution.
The Council’s joint
secretary, Qaiser Majeed Malik, had recently told the media that the Council
was ‘a parallel government’ and would raise its own body for
accountability. The remarks triggered an intense row between the AJK
government and its so-called upper house, the Kashmir Council. The Kashmir
Council maintains that it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the AJK
government or its institutions such as the Accountability Bureau. Therefore,
neither the AJK government nor any of its institutions can make the Kashmir
Council accountable for its wrong doings.
For the first time in the
recent of history of the region, the leadership of all the opposition parties
has taken a unanimous stand, saying that no institution is above the law. On
the other hand, a large number of local civil society actors and politicians
has long been demanding that the executive powers of the Kashmir Council on
administrative, legislative, financial and judicial spheres should be
drastically reduced to empower the AJK Assembly and the elected government.
It is a widely known fact
that the Kashmir Council has always been acting as an arbitrary, autonomous
and unaccountable body that runs a parallel administration in the AJK. It
often intrudes into the jurisdiction of democratically-elected government and
Legislative Assembly. It also lacks basic democratic credentials,
particularly accountability and public scrutiny.
Although, the Kashmir
Council is a by-product of the AJK’s constitution, it is for all practical
purposes a federal body. The prime minister of Pakistan either directly or
through the federal minister of Kashmir affairs exercises executive authority
The Council chair (read the
PM of Pakistan) not only appoints judges of high and supreme court and
election commissioner, but also chief secretary, who heads the entire
administration, finance secretary, who manages budgetary matters, inspector
general police, who controls issues related to law and order, accountant
general, who keeps a watchful eye on all kinds of expenditures and additional
chief secretary for development, who approves development projects. The prime
minister and minister for Kashmir affairs are neither answerable to any court
of law nor to the elected members of the Kashmir Council.
The Council controls 52 key
subjects but its functionaries are not answerable to the AJK Assembly or
elected members of the Council. It is responsible for collecting income tax
from the AJK and deducts 20 per cent of the revenue to run its own affairs.
For instance, in the
financial year of 2010-11, the Council collected six billion rupees as income
tax from the territory of the AJK and deducted Rs1.20 billion to manage its
own affairs. Interestingly, the share of income tax is released to the AJK
government on monthly basis. The Council has the authority to allocate as
much money as it wants as it is exempted from the approval by Executive
Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC). It escapes the AJK writ
and remains outside the Pakistani juridical limits as well.
Members of the Kashmir
Council neither debate budget priorities or allocation nor regularly hold
sessions to do legislation or debate other political issues. These elected
members have no say over the 52 subjects which fall in the Council
jurisdiction. The track record of the Council shows that elected members of
the Council have failed to establish parliamentary oversight over the affairs
of federal bureaucracy who run the show.
The AJK has huge untapped
resources including hydel power generation which can change the destiny of
the region. The dual system of governance run by Islamabad through the
Kashmir Council and elected government of AJK has always been a major hurdle
in the region’s development.
The people of Azad Kashmir
also deserve a fair treatment by the federal government and more autonomy to
run their internal affairs. The removal of the Accountability Bureau chief is
being seen as a step to weaken the local democratic institutions i.e. the
elected government and the parliament.
The persistence dichotomy
in the AJK setup runs counter to the established Pakistani position that
Kashmiri people have the right to preside over their destiny. The Kashmir
Affairs Ministry should deal with the Kashmir policy and not with issues of
governance in the AJK territory.
The writer is
Islamabad-based freelance journalist and consultant. ershadmahmud.com
AJK leaders with Pakistani