MUZAFFARABAD: Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan Niazi of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) took oath as the 13th Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir here on Wednesday.

The oath was administered to him by AJK President Sardar Masood Khan at a well-attended ceremony at President’s House in Muzaffarabad.

Earlier, in the election for the coveted office, Mr Niazi secured 33 votes as against 15 bagged by his rival Chaudhry Latif Akbar, a joint candidate of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The 33 votes of Mr Niazi included one by Jammu Kashmir Peoples Party (JKPP) legislator Sardar Hassan Ibrahim.

Speaker Chaudhry Anwarul Haq was also among the voters notwithstanding objections by the opposition on the grounds that every voter was required under the relevant rules to vacate the hall after recording his choice before the assembly secretariat’s official concerned.

Earlier, Latif Akbar, who is regional president of the PPP, had also raised objections to the procedure adopted for the voting, and instead advocated for secret balloting.

PTI parliamentary party taken by surprise when Gandapur announced Imran Khan’s choice

However, the chair maintained that the rules did not allow what he demanded.

At this, Mr Akbar called for suspension of rules “the way it was done on Tuesday to restrict the schedule for prime minister’s election from two to one day”.

However, his plea was turned down by the chair.

Mr Akbar could bag 15 votes because Chaudhry Yasin and Javed Badhanvi of his party — the former having been returned from two constituencies — have not taken oath of office as yet, while Sardar Yaqoob Khan of the PPP abstained on Wednesday due to some personal reasons.

Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, the lone Muslim Conference legislator, was also unable to take part in voting as he showed up and took oath as MLA after its conclusion.

After the result was announced, the chair gave the floor to Latif Akbar, who has also been designated as leader of the opposition, to express his views.

While criticising the “violation of rules in the instant election”, he also spoke about alleged deals on Kashmir and vowed that the opposition would fully resist all such shenanigans.

Immediately after his speech, former premier and PML-N leader Raja Farooq Haider also sought the floor to speak out his heart but the chair did not allow him despite insistence by his colleague and former speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir.

At this moment, the opposition lawmakers staged a walkout from the house and the prime minister-elect delivered his speech in the absence of the opposition.

In his speech, the new AJK leader, who belongs to an area that has long borne the brunt of exchange of shelling across the Line of Control (LoC), spelt out his priorities and assured that his government “will utilise all of its energies and resources for the well-being of the people of the state in accordance with the vision of Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan”.

Abdul Qayyum Niazi said provision of health facilities, promotion of education and development of infrastructure and communications will be the top priority of his government, with special focus on the people living along the LoC.

On the Kashmir issue, he said plebiscite was the only way for the settlement of this longstanding dispute and made it clear that no other formula in this regard was under consideration.

Earlier in the morning, almost the entire PTI parliamentary party was taken by surprise when federal minister Ali Amin Gandapur announced that Prime Minister Imran Khan had given his blessing to Sardar Abdul Qayyum Niazi.

It may be recalled that on July 29 PM Khan had invited PTI’s regional president Barrister Sultan Mahmood, Sardar Tanveer Ilyas, Khawaja Farooq Ahmed and Azhar Sadiq at the PM House where they were separately interviewed.

The development had created a wide impression that any of the four could turn out to be his pick for the AJK premiership. However, the following day Mr Niazi and Ansar Abdali, a PTI legislator from Kotli, were also flown to the PM House by a chopper for similar interviews.

Nevertheless, from political pundits to a common man, a vast majority was betting on Mr Mahmood, Mr Ilyas and Mr Ahmed. However, Wednesday’s decision came as a bolt from the blue not only for them but also for Mr Niazi. It was widely believed that a change in the schedule for prime minister’s election and announcement of Mr Niazi’s name at the last moment were in fact designed to leave no time for any grouping in the party at the hands of allegedly disgruntled leaders.

Soon after the swearing-in of PM Niazi, the AJK president also administered oath to Tanveer Ilyas as the “most senior minister”. His portfolio was, however, not announced immediately.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2021

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