The charade of autonomy in PoK’s political setup
PoK is effectively integrated in Pakistan, not only in terms of the constitutional compact of powers, but through political control. It is Pakistan’s mainstream parties that have formed governments in PoK in successive “elections”
Any change in government in Islamabad is usually followed by a shuffle in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir’s (PoK)’s political set-up. This reflects the absence of autonomy in the territory, which Pakistan otherwise claims to be azad or independent. This drama was re-enacted in April after Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan lost power in Pakistan.
The last election in PoK in July 2021 brought to power a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) government headed by Abdul Qayyum Khan Niazi. PTI, which is headed by Imran Khan, replaced the previous government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) headed by Raja Farouk Haider.
Days after Imran Khan’s ouster, Sardar Tanveer Ilyas took over as PM of PoK, replacing Niazi. However, there was a curious twist. The no-confidence motion (NCM) against Niazi was brought by his own party members.
The drama in PoK began soon after Shehbaz Sharif was elected as Pakistan’s PM on April 11. Three days later, Niazi sacked five cabinet ministers. This triggered the NCM, and Ilyas, also from PTI, took over. Was this change brought about with the blessings of Imran Khan – an intra-party change brought about with the concurrence of the party leader? A vote on the floor of the legislature is an unusual route to do so. A party leader, who had just lost power at the federal level, is unlikely to initiate such an NCM, which could result in the loss of his regional fiefdom.
If Khan did not initiate the move, where did the impulse for change come from? The election or selection of PM of PoK is not possible without a nod from the army. But the army was avoiding a change in the sensitive area, which could damage the narrative that the problem lies on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC). Any change of the figurehead without changing the party equation is the least cost option. Ilyas got 33 votes in the 53-member assembly session, boycotted by the 19 opposition members from Pakistan People’s Party and PML-N.
Changing a government via a vote in the assembly seems legitimate in a democracy, but PoK has a different arrangement. Under the original Interim Constitution Act of 1974, all the important legislative and executive powers were vested in a council headed by Pakistan’s PM. This was criticised as rule by proxy by Islamabad.
Under the 13th amendment of the “interim” constitution in 2018, the council was relegated to an advisory role. Instead of transferring its powers to the elected assembly, Pakistan assumed direct legislative authority on 32 subjects. The elected assembly needs Pakistan’s approval for legislating even on the remaining 22 subjects.
It is interesting that the 13th amendment of PoK’s “interim” constitution was made a year before the revocation of Article 370 by the Government of India. While Pakistan has always exercised absolute powers over and within PoK, the 13th amendment made a subtle, yet far-reaching change. Earlier, Islamabad enjoyed powers behind a charade of autonomy for the territory. Now, it has assumed those powers directly within the territory.
PoK is effectively integrated in Pakistan, not only in terms of the constitutional compact of powers, but through political control. It is Pakistan’s mainstream parties that have formed governments in PoK in successive “elections”. The hold of regional or “Kashmiri” political parties has progressively diminished. The Muslim Conference, which had supported the demand for PoK to join Pakistan in 1947, has only one member in the 53-seat legislature. The Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, which supports the “independence” option, is not even allowed to participate in elections. Azadi (freedom) has no place in azad (free) Kashmir, and is only encouraged on the Indian side of the LoC.
The PoK drama may soon be followed in Gilgit-Baltistan. The efforts to unseat the sitting chief minister Khalid Khurshid, a PTI member, began in April. Recently, the CM insisted that his convoy was targeted by the Punjab Police, while they were proceeding to attend a rally in Islamabad. He survived, but his political survival is uncertain.
DP Srivastava is former ambassador and author of the book, Forgotten Kashmir: The Other Side of the Line of Control
The views expressed are personal