Jan 26, 2010

Concerns of AJK

Marvi Memon

The Kashmir and Northern Areas Ministry (KANA) which administratively manages both territories, has changed its name to Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan (KGB) Ministry. What follows is my take on Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) and KGB in my first visit to AJK as a member of parliament.

Prior to this trip, only two meetings had taken place in two years of the KGB National Assembly Committee and both were concentrated on Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). Thus, it was only fair to have a meeting focusing only on AJK issues.

In the two-hour briefing from the officials of the AJK government, we got to hear about the region's history, constitutional status, developmental projects and reconstruction status. It was a presentation that left unanswered questions and gave us an agenda for the next couple of meetings.

We had a meeting with the President of AJK who discussed the Kashmir cause with us. The deliverables were certainly a realisation that even though this committee had been kept away from promoting the Kashmir cause, it was this standing committee's parliamentary duty to promote issue. While on an individual level, I had played the hawk on India and Kashmir, it was time to strategise as a committee with the AJK government. Secondly, it was felt that there was a need to push for a separate Ambassador for Pakistan to the EU to bring more focus to the issue.

A visit to the state of-the-art and high-maintenance CMH donated by the UAE government, where we visited the victims of the Ashura blast, brought home the concept of how we needed to assist the AJK government with the sustainability of all the high-tech projects

Perhaps the most touching part of the trip was the media press conference and interaction with civil society. This was the first time they had been given ample time to interact with members of Pakistani legislature. We heard them in detail during which the following issues were discussed.

Firstly, the GB package announcement, without consulting AJK, had annoyed the latter since they thought it hurt the Kashmir cause. I explained that we had not been consulted either. Frankly, by giving a governor and chief minister only in name didn't satisfy the people of GB either, who would have been happier with an AJK style set-up with their own PM and president. They also felt that the PPP had not given a provincial set-up. It was a mere political gimmick intended to buy votes.

What I realised for the first time was that the people of AJK didn't consider their system to be model enough for GB to follow since they had the same issues with the KGB acting like the Soviet KGB.

Second was the issue of Neelum-Jhelum Hydel Project (NJHP), which would the reduce water flow of Muzaffarabad. I had come with the notion that this was a mega project of 969MW critically required for Pakistan. Having visited the impressive site at a cost of $2.1 billion, I was even more convinced. However, we insisted on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports so that AJK got ample water flowing through its rivers while sorting the sewerage issues. Moreover they wanted net hydel profit for NJHP. I agreed since I was an active proponent of the same for GB's Diamir Dam.

There were also complaints against the resistance of the people of AJK to the Kashmir Council which they claimed was a white independent elephant, answerable to no one. The committee had received a most unfortunate correspondence from the council's secretariat claiming we had no jurisdiction over it in terms of legislative authority. So it was clear why we were being blocked and what we had to do in the next couple of weeks in terms of privilege motions and investigations against the Kashmir Council secretariat.

Fourth were the complaints against ERRA and SERRA who locals thought were not answerable to the AJK government and who they thought had not performed on master plans of the three cities etc. Prior to this visit, ERRA was, in my mind, the big international winner who had turned adversity into opportunity, but the complaints made us as a committee put its issues on the agenda for investigation.

Fifth were the constitutional amendments, post-1974, of AJK Constitution which had diluted the powers of the government which they wished changed into a more independent set up. While they informed us that the PM had made a committee, they didn't seem very hopeful on this subject. It seemed like a classic case of provincial autonomy and the abolition of the concurrent list. Sindhi nationalists and the Kashmiri people sounded similar to me that night.

Sixth was the issue of exemption from development cuts for AJK which Mr Zardari had promised but which we needed to get implemented as a committee. I insisted the same be done for GB since they had seen massive development cuts too. Big schemes were promised with no funding plans since their national exchequers couldn't afford it.

While in such a short trip, we heard about many other issues, it seemed to me to be a classic case of how parliamentary oversight was badly required to balance the viceroy injustices in both GB and AJK. It was with renewed vigour that I will start my week as I realise that I have four provinces and two territories to fight for as a Pakistani legislator.

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