by Tahir Bhat
SRINAGAR: For the July 25 polls to the Muzaffarabad house, Pakistani politicians are invoking Kashmir but the people are expected to go strictly as per their traditions – follow the Biradari consensus, reports appearing in the Pakistani media said.
The contest is between the three political parties – the PML-N that has been ruling Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK), the PPP and now Imran Khan’s PTI. There are other small groups including Jamaat-e-Islami, Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference but they are not in a position to get the numbers required for ruling the territory.
Muslim Conference has ruled the region four times but the entry of the Muslim League pushed it to a corner to the extent that it had only two berths in the House in 2016 polls. Analysts suggest the real contest is between PML-N and PTI. In 2016, they had 31 and two seats, respectively. It was Maryam who drew the huge crowds, as per media reports.
Muzaffarabad’s unicameral House has 53 seats. Of these 45 are directly elected including 33 in PaK and 12 for the Kashmiri refugees settled in the rest of Pakistan. The remaining eight are nominated and reserved for women, technocrats, religious scholars and the diaspora. The House represents 32 lakh voters, according to global news gatherer, AFP.
First Phase Over
On Sunday last, more than 27000 employees of the Muzaffarabad government have cast their votes before being deployed to hold the polling process. These include 5114 presiding officers, 7336 polling officers and 14672 polling assistants. They cast their votes in 33 berths from across the Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK).
Now on July 25, the people will vote on Sunday. More than 700 candidates from 32 political and religious parties are in the fray for 45 general seats
Given the fact that Kashmir has remained at the core of politics in Pakistan, the Kashmir overdose was witnessed in the campaigning by all parties. Over the years, the region has become an extension of Pakistani politics.
This summer campaign saw PML-N leader Maryam Sharif, daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and PPP’s Aseefa Bhutoo, daughter of slain Priem Minister, Benazir Bhutoo, campaigned in all the three divisions – Mirpur, Poonch and Muzaffarabad.
Unlike 2011 and 2016, this campaign was made different by the ceasefire in place and the local leaders could move around without any tension. Media reports said the Muzaffarabad city located at the confluence of Neelam and Jhelum rivers, looked in a celebration mood throughout.
“In the picturesque valley perched in Harmukh mountains part of great Himalayas, around noon under clear skies, over 2,000 people have gathered in the sprawling sports ground of a government college in Kail to show support to their candidate, belonging to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Prime Minister Imran Khan, which is taking part in the upcoming elections as a favourite,” Anadolu Agency reported from Kail. “Until a few months ago, it was hard to imagine about a public gathering here,” Zafar Ali, a resident told the agency. “It is because of the cease-fire, we are sitting here without any fear.” Till February, people would hardly assemble even for a wedding.
The campaigning has been abusive to the extent that Pakistan’s Express Tribune commented in an editorial: “The level to which our political discourse (if it can even be called that) descends to puts even rowdy schoolyard and street arguments to shame. But sadly, in our country, this no longer feels a surprise.”
The region witnessed a 2016 campaign revolving around Burhan Wani. This election is being contested on August 5, 2019. This season, PML (N) and PPP are accusing PTI of a “sell-out”. By attempting to make PaK a province of Pakistan, Maryam Nawaz repeatedly said, Imran Khan was implementing a “secret plan” of giving legitimacy to what Delhi did in Jammu and Kashmir. She introduces herself as the “blood of Kashmir”, a reference to her family’s Kashmir roots.
PPP, having all the time the least possibility of a major win, is attacking both. The main attack on PML (N) is that they invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a wedding.
Maintaining Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a traitor and Nawaz Sharif a dacoit, Imran Khan shocked the political class by formally endorsing the third option on Kashmir. In the UN referendum, he told a huge gathering at Trar Khal “his government will hold another referendum to give the people of Kashmir a choice to either live with Pakistan or become an independent state.” His statement is being seen as a departure from the state Islamabad Kashmir policy.
But the overdose on Kashmir and mainland politics has pushed the routine issues of daily life to the back-burner.
جماعت اسلامی کی "کامیاب" "سیاست"۔۔ پچھلے پانچ سال نون لیگ سے سنگت کرکے اسمبلی کی 2 نشستیں حاصل کیں اور اب اگلے 5 سال پی ٹی آئی سے سنگت کے بدلے کم ازکم ایک نشست کا وعدہ تو لےہی لیاہوگا https://t.co/9DGqxJwUnw
— Tariq Naqash (@TariqNaqash) July 21, 2021
Regardless of the campaign, the outcome is being seen on basis of the caste and ethnic demography of the region. Unlike a homogenous Kashmir, the other Kashmir is heterogeneous and divided on ethnic lines. Reporting from Muzaffarabad, Anadolu Agency reported that biradaris matter more than the issues politicians talk about. What is interesting is that the winning candidates move with the prevailing currents.
“Six major castes or biradaris, Gujjar (Chaudhry), Sudhan, Rajput, Syed, Khawaja, and Awan have been dominating the political scene in the region,” the agency reported. “Political parties have distributed mandates among representatives of these castes depending on the concentration of their populations in the particular constituencies.” Gujjars dominated the 2016 assembly because they are the most populous in the region.
“These politicians know the power of their respective biradaris. Therefore, they don’t hesitate to join the party, which has brighter chances of coming into power,” Anadolu agency quoted Sajjad Mir, a Muzaffarabad-based political analyst, saying. “Citing the example of Chaudhry Shehzad, who served as a minister in the incumbent government of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) headed by three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif until last month, Mir said he left the party and within two hours got the PTI ticket.”
What is interesting is that the Muzaffarabad elections are finding an echo in Birmingham, a UK midland area where almost 100 thousand Mirpuri’s Kashmiris live. They have a berth reserved for the diaspora. Though the people are coming out with rallies and paid advertisements in the local channels, a general impression is that the berth is being filled on basis of local politics by the ruling party.
They cite the instance of a Birmingham billionaire Javed Iqbal who was gifted the seat by Nawaz Sharief in 2016. But the election is offering them a chance to move around and talk Kashmir.
In this election, there was a fierce debate over the allocation of refugee seats. There are 12 berths reserved for 464,000 refugees, six each for those who migrated from Kashmir and Jammu divisions in 1947 and 1965. Interestingly, six seats are reserved for 30,000 Kashmiris migrants (excluding around 8000 families that migrated from Kashmir post-1990) and six for 434,000 who migrated from Jammu and settled in Pakistan. All these berths, however, are being used by the party ruling in Islamabad, which almost everybody knows and acknowledges.
An unknown gunman has opened fire on a PTI rally on Ghari Dupatta, on the Jhelum Valley Road, leaving four persons injured.