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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Identifying Azad Kashmir

Even the concept of funding research is difficult to grasp for most people. It is little wonder that most information relayed in society relies heavily on hearsay. The administration either doesn't have a clear picture itself or it deliberately hides
or obfuscates data.

In contemporay times, it is widely believed that Pakistan's standing in the eyes of Azad kashmiris fell after 9/11. Especially after the scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan's 'arrest'. This era bizarrely co-incided with perhaps the most noble, productive, incorruptible and scrupulous visionary of a president in India, who also happened to share Abdul Qadeer's profession.

For a territory that is immersed in legal ambiguity (According to U.N. resolutions in 1948, Azad Kashmir is neither a sovereign state nor a province of Pakistan, but rather a "local authority" with responsibility over the area assigned to it under a 1949 ceasefire
agreement with India), it follows that independent research, writers and books are thin on the ground. This furthers the increasingly prevalent notion amongst people of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir, that they were betrayed and silenced by their own for the larger (unproductive) interests of India and Pakistan.

The prevailing structures on both sides of the divide where obligations of livelihood have stunted creative thought and aspiration, most people are forced to distance themselves from the truth. It is only in rare moments of contemplation or frustration that what ought to be reality; surfaces. Consequently, what most people of the State have little stomach to listen to, others working for that dream have to work that bit harder, day in - day out.

'Azad Kashmir' is no exception. This makes productive research work so arduous. In the first instance, State funding is unavailable for such endeavour. One only needs to look at the Geology department of AJK University in Muzaffarabad or the Agriculture department in Rawalakot to understand that a superficial, pliant society does not produce the fruits of modern day progress.

Even the concept of funding research is difficult to grasp for most people. It is little wonder that most information relayed in society relies heavily on hearsay. The administration either doesn't have a clear picture itself or it deliberately hides
or obfuscates data.

One can widen the picture of visible 'output' by taking a cursory glance at the health sector where they'll discover a plethora of counterfeit drugs in the market. Education in the public sector has long been considerable undesirable by the public, where many
a teacher blames children and their lack of application for the pathetic standard.  It's alternative - though a booming industry - is characterised by rote learning and massaging academic results according to commercial imperative. This writer, in his direct experience of teaching at a private institution, found that creative learning techniques were impossible for students to digest. It is little wonder that the most widely spoken language in the world viz. English, far from aiding in the progress of AJK (Azad Jammu Kashmir) is considered an insurmountable hurdle to overcome and few citizens speak it competently, even less have the courage to write it.

On a visit to Srinagar last year and noticing the abundance of english newspapers and periodicals, this writer couldn't help commenting on the dearth or rather absence of such in AJK. Meanwhile, the urdu media is a continu-um of the three organs of the State with information pimps and artful extotionists featuring prominently.

Many a lawyer, academic, government servant and not forgetting politicians (including the Member of the Legislative Assembly that has represented this writer's constituency since 1996) exercise influence in society and earn their livelihood via fabricated degrees.

The critical fields of politics and media are where entry-level people have to work - for free - or worse, invest their own resources to position themselves in society. Once they are through the door, the structure of governance is designed to avail them of a multitude of opportunities to recoup (sic) their investment. This writer, after a series of lengthy discussions with Sardar Qayoom Khan in April 2008, found this tactic echoed in his recommendation.

Whilst reading this, many a resident of the Kashmir Valley may find stark similarities to how governance is run by the Indian-administered side, except the scenario is distinctly more dire here. It is compounded by the lack of awareness of modern means of governance, assisted by an opaque environment and the absence of a 'Freedom of information Act'.*

Ambiguity exists not only in the origins of how Azad Kashmir became a political and geographic entity. Perhaps by necessity of creation, it developed legal ambiguity over who is and isn't a government servant. The distinction between staff who are permanent and who are ad-hoc is such that, the former are at times in wonder as to whether they are bona-fide officials or the latter lurking in the shadows are. In the observation of one public sector official, "No-one knows how many staff are employed in the public sector, not even the Finance Minister's Secretary - who authorises payment of wages - has a clue!"

On the private front, extortionate and sub-standard quality of foodstuff from Pakistan has compelled many an aggrieved to consider investing in local agriculture. What hitherto had been considered as a vocation of a bygone era is rapidly coming into vogue.
The merits of plentiful and pristine water and air solidify the temptation.

In the dark days of a closed society, AJK rulers in their thrust to reclaim the Kashmir Valley, unashamedly and countlessly claimed that development will be such that other Kashmiris will wish to be like us!

The last local elections took place in 1991 and were abandoned in 1996. Thus, even if one were to assume there to be a genuine will amongst the 'powers that be' to nourish democracy, it's absence from it's roots at the local level is a clear indictment of their
intent. This has enhanced the local MLA's (Member of AJK Legislative Assembly) ability to reap benefit from a dysfunctional administrative structure, manipulating it according to their sweet will. Thus, along with holding the puppet strings of the Policeman and Patwari and far from legislating in the assembly (there being hardly any matter to legislate on with virtually all matters of governance dealt by a 'Kashmir Council' presided over by Pakistan's Prime Minister), they also control funds for rural development and local infrastructure.

Many people are unclear as to whether the last population Census took place in 1998 or 1999. For the record, the latter is the correct answer. Taking all the above into account and remembering that the current leislative assembly term (2006 - 2011) witnessed three different prime ministers, little room is left for doubting the forthcoming general election in June 2011, to be a malafide exercise to determine public will.

Just as New Delhi is deemed to have a collaborator coterie in Srinagar, so does Islamabad. With the current incumbent in the Prime Minister's chair, namely Sardar Attique, considered by many to be par excellence in that dubious respect. It is lamentable that to date, virtually all segments of nationalist, independent or progressive thinking have focused on India, Pakistan or the International Community rather than civil society in AJK, as their target for activism. Thus, giving Islamabad a clean sweep to deflate their aspirations for the re-unification of Kashmir. The majority of people here still fail to connect the dots between military control of governance and lack of freedom to develop transparent institutions, thereby disabling the possibility of positive political change that could reflect people's needs.

It is perhaps apt that one should observe the following poignant tale from across the line as something to ponder over till next week:
 "Sheikh Abdullah convened a Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ convention at Mujahid Manzil on October 12, 1968, and on June 8-13, 1970. Many a paper read in these proceedings advocated independence. Those from 'Azad Kashmir' who sent papers advocating independence were duly punished with imprisonment by Pakistan."**

Footnotes:
*
Right To Information Act J&K - 2009
**
Prof. Manzoor Fazili’s compilation of the papers is very useful (Kashmir Predilection;     Gulshan Publishers, Srinagar, 1988)

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The writer is a writer, broadcaster and activist working for civil society development in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and can be mailed at sahaafi@gmail.com

This article was first published in Rising Kashmir (a Srinagar-based English daily) on the 8th of December 2010

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I then received the following message:

Dear Mr. Tanveer Ahmed:

If you do not mind, I would like to include your article, "Identifying Azad Kashmir" in the December 11 issue of our daily bulletin "Kashmir News & Views." Its old issues can be accessed at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/KashmirSolutionsForum/ 

Best wishes,
Pritam
Pritam K. Rohila, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Association for Communal Harmony in Asia (ACHA)

www.asiapeace.org & www.indiapakistanpeace.org


asiapeace@comcast.net

...

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