The issue “is being used to appease rulers in Pakistan,” feel analysts

The battle among political parties in this Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to reach the Prime Minister's office has intensified with campaigning gathering pace for the June 26 elections.

Issues of governance have been relegated to the background in the campaign due to an “overdose” of how the Kashmir problem should be resolved.

In the past five years, the PoK government has remained unstable because of differences in the Muslim Conference (MC), currently ruling the State. This has cast a shadow over the ongoing electoral process and completely changed the equations by bringing Pakistan's ruling People's Party and Nawaz Sharief-led Muslim League into the larger picture.

“Azad Jammu and Kashmir” as it is officially known, faced the worst-ever devastation in the 2005 earthquake, but with generous aid from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE, reconstruction and rehabilitation was made possible.

Locals' stance

The people also seem to be focussing less on development issues and more on the “question of azadi for Jammu and Kashmir.” “We have day-to-day problems but we have to see who will work sincerely for the freedom of Kashmir,” Intizar Hussain, a local resident, told The Hindu.

This is perhaps the reason why political parties have also made “Kashmir issue” as the main theme of their campaign even as Pakistani government's priorities on the issue have changed due to internal disturbances. Even the Pakistani mainstream media gives little coverage to the PoK elections.

PoK Prime Minister Sardar Attique Khan, while addressing a two-day International conference on Kashmir here recently, ended his speech with the favourite slogan “Kashmir Banega Pakistan” (Kashmir will become Pakistan.” This he said in the presence of Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani.

The PPP, the PML(N) and the new entrant Muttahida Quami Movement led by London-based leader Altaf Hussain have also not shrugged off the issue.

However, analysts feel that “this issue is purely being used” to “appease the rulers in Pakistan.” “It is part of how you play politics for power. I do not say that the Kashmir issue has nothing to do with us. That is close to our heart but the question is how they can forget the issues connected with the day-to-day life of people,” said an analyst in Muzaffarabad pleading anonymity.

Wooing refugees

According to another observer, it is also being done to woo the voters among Kashmiri refugees who have settled in Pakistan from 1947 onwards. Of the 41 seats in the Assembly, 12 are being elected by over five lakh Kashmiris and this becomes decisive in the formation of the government. Around 20 lakh voters will elect the remaining members.

Due to political instability in the State, which saw the ouster of two MC Prime Ministers, Sardar Yaqoob Khan and Raja Farooq Haider, within three years, the equations have changed on the ground. Farooq Haider and another influential leader Chowdhary Latif Akbar have defected from the MC and joined the PML(N) and the PPP respectively.

Now the battle for the top post is among Mr. Attique Khan, PPP's Sultan Mehmood Chowdhary and Mr. Farooq Haider. Elections in PoK are held through ballot and conducted by its Election Commission. The Pakistan Army is looking after the security arrangements. Mr. Gilani had said that his government would ensure free and fair elections.