MUZAFFARABAD, Nov 17: The cash starved Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) government has appointed a former federal secretary as adviser to the AJK prime minister on a one year contract against a hefty pay package.
Mohammad Kashif Murtaza, a retired BPS-22 federal secretary who had served as AJK chief secretary from December 2004 to March 2007, will get “perks and privileges in accordance with Management Professional-1 package.” It includes Rs350,000 monthly salary and other benefits, such as official transport and fuel.
His job description, according to an S&GAD notification, is “management and development of property and real estate of the AJK government and the AJK Council situated in the jurisdiction of the government of Pakistan; welfare, improvement of livelihood and settlement of Kashmiri refugees in Pakistan and AJK and any other tasks, the government may assign to him, from time to time.”
Highly placed official sources told Dawn that Mr Murtaza had been appointed on the insistence of Federal Minister for Kashmir affairs, Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo.
Interestingly, the properties of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (JK) in Pakistan fall under the administrative control of the Federal Ministry of Kashmir Affairs since 1960, which looks after them through an administrator, based in Lahore.
The income generated from these properties does not figure anywhere in the fiscal documents of the AJK government or the AJK Council, despite the fact that “JK properties’ figure in the Council’s legislative list, as stipulated in AJK’s Interim Constitution Act, 1974.
The Kashmiri leadership has frequently called for grant of control of these properties to the AJK government, but to no avail.
In this backdrop, most of the AJK government functionaries, including many ministers, were stupefied at the former federal secretary’s appointment for a task beyond the jurisdiction of their government.
Pointing out to the new adviser’s task regarding Kashmiri refugees, sources said the refugees were living in Pakistan from 1947 onwards, and were represented in the AJK Assembly by 12 directly elected legislators, half of them holding ministerial positions.
“Even the minister for rehabilitation is also a refugee. So what’s the point of appointing a retired Pakistani bureaucrat against such a heavy package for the same task?”
Sources were also critical of the appointment in view of acute financial crunch in AJK which had been hampering developmental activities and delaying payment of salaries to employees.
Currently, there are 24 ministers and at least 5 advisers to the PM with the status of ministers. Additionally, dozens of other advisers and coordinators have also been appointed against lump-sump salaries.
While the ruling Peoples Party leaders, even those averse to the appointment, were avoiding comments about it, Leader of the Opposition and PML-N AJK chapter president Raja Farooq Haider deprecated it for being inessential.
“It’s not only burden on AJK’s economy but also an attempt to misuse the funds of Kashmiris in the federal ministry and AJK Council,” he told Dawn, adding, his party would take legal recourse to it.
However, AJK premier’s media adviser Murtaza Durrani defended the appointment, saying the government wanted to “benefit from former federal secretary’s vast contacts” in Islamabad.
“There have been strong indications that Kashmir affairs ministry wants to handover the control of JK properties to AJK government and Mr Murtaza will facilitate that process,” he claimed.