The existing academic and journalistic literature on the Kashmir conflict is largely reflective of defence, and the strategic and diplomatic relationship between Pakistan and India. Indigenous narratives are rarely accommodated at the surface, a few exceptions being the fictional accounts of novelist Mirza Waheed (The Collaborator; The Book of Gold Leaves; Tell Her Everything), memoirs of journalist Basharat Peer (Curfewed Nights) and some very significant academic work by historian Chitralekha Zutshi (Languages of Belonging; Kashmir’s Contested Pasts: Narratives, Sacred Geographies, and the Historical Imagination).

However, these are from India-Occupied Kashmir (IoK). The part of the territory administered by Pakistan — Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) — continues to go missing from the larger debates. Attempting to counter this is Azad Jammu and Kashmir: Polity, Politics and Power-Sharing by political scientist Javaid Hayat. It is a perspective that keeps AJK as its focal point, and takes into consideration the history, genesis and current scenarios of local politics in the region.

In his book, Hayat focuses on the legal status of AJK, its polity, politics and autonomy, which he calls “power-sharing”. The AJK Interim Constitution of 1974 is the basis for a relationship between AJK and Pakistan. It aims to provide a legal framework for local government, which guarantees some autonomy in certain matters, but as of yet it has not delivered auspicious conditions for better administration and self-governance.

The Poonch revolt of 1947 against Maharaja Hari Singh — the last ruler of the princely state of Kashmir — and subsequent turmoil served as a cause for Pakistan to interfere and assert control over the territories now known as AJK. The ceasefire between Pakistan and India, implemented by the United Nations in 1949, was aimed to keep interim constancy until final resolution of the Kashmir conflict through a plebiscite. But the final resolution never moved forward because the two nuclear states — Pakistan and India — continued to lay claim over the entire region.

A political scientist proposes an alternative model for governance in the part of the disputed region under Pakistan’s administration

The main question Hayat puts forth in his book is: “Can more democracy and democratic governance transpire within disputed territories amidst the absence of self-determination and statehood?” He gives new insight into “power-sharing” by focusing on “internal self-determination”, and goes down to the provisional and impermanent options of power-sharing intended to promote reasonable governance.

The book is divided into six chapters and each examines dissimilar, but interrelated, subjects that bring attention back to the main question. The introduction articulates the debate for the proceeding chapters and, taking the debate forward, examines the historical context and origins of the Kashmir conflict, its implications for AJK’s present ambiguous legal status and its odd structure of governance.

This is not a lean, simple and straightforward structure. Currently, the chief secretary, inspector general of the police and various other officers are appointed by Pakistan’s federal government. These are locally called “lent officers” and do not belong to AJK. Moreover, the appointment of the judges of the higher courts is made with the consent of the prime minister of Pakistan. The role of Pakistan’s Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, and the Azad Jammu Kashmir Council, is very often believed to be ultra vires because it restricts the Kashmiri people’s domain of authority and power. Kashmir’s local leadership considers this authority their prerogative and opines that it must be shifted to AJK’s legislative assembly.

Quoting the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP), Hayat contends that “AJK is not a sovereign state nor a province of Pakistan. It is a local authority with the responsibility over the area assigned to it under a 1949 agreement between India and Pakistan.” He then goes on to discuss contemporary theories and approaches of power-sharing and their bearing on AJK.

Finally, the author looks at possible substitutes and presents an alternative model, under the principle of “internal self-determination”, for the resolution of governance anomalies and democratic discrepancy.

There are multiple factors in politics and power-sharing. For Hayat, three principal factors condition the situation in AJK. First, it is informed by the larger Kashmir conflict, which has set the conditions for the ambiguous status of AJK and the interim and impermanent legal arrangements.

Second, being a de facto administered unit of Pakistan, AJK has been overlooked from the mainstream, which makes it “systematically” dependent upon Pakistan in almost all aspects of economic, political and social life. Third, internal dynamics, “Beraadri and Tabbar” — or clan-based — politics and regional divisions play an important role in its political developments.

The interim and constitutional relationship between Pakistan and AJK was built in a post-conflict setting; it has now itself become a source of contention. The status of AJK, the ownership of natural resources and autonomy of power is a burning topic among political parties, especially nationalist groups. They consider it unjust because these arrangements have left very little space for self-governance.

Against this backdrop, Hayat argues that these legal arrangements cause friction of governance that needs to be changed with an alternative framework. This, the author proposes, can be done in the form of constitutional and policy recommendations to resolve the odd power-sharing relationship between Pakistan and AJK.

Hayat himself hails from AJK and so benefits from a deep understanding of the region. He spent three years carrying out intense fieldwork to gather material for the book, which draws upon primary and secondary sources of information, extensive literature review and interviews of political leaders, journalists, academics, civil society activists and legislators. Additionally, it also includes conclusions drawn from panel group discussions and surveys.

Hayat supposes that the Kashmir resistance movement has been confronted with the grand narratives of Pakistan and India, where each considers the region theirs and Kashmiris have no option other than join one or the other. An indigenous narrative has been underestimated and, consequently, not allowed to develop.

He states that, “ironically, not a single book has been written with a focus on AJK and its governance structure and the interim constitutional arrangement in the last seven decades by a local belonging to the ‘Azad’ Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore, this book is an attempt to fill that gap.” However, this claim is not factually correct. Plenty has indeed been written by local authors and AJK nationalists, but voices have been suppressed — according to a news report dated March 8, 2016 appearing in Dawn, 16 books written or compiled by pro-independence writers have been banned by the AJK government.

Hayat demands many a concession from the state of Pakistan and urges the people of AJK to become involved in everyday resistance, to raise a voice on topical issues and engage in debates centred on the indigenous issues. Given the current political situation in IoK, the revocation/abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A — which allowed Kashmiris their own distinct state based on their identity, regional autonomy, and self-rule and barred non-Kashmiris from buying land and ownership of property — and imposition of curfews, dissenting voices are also rising among the people of AJK. Hayat’s book is a significant attempt, in this regard, to provide context to them.

A debate has been generated now about the fate of AJK among academics, scholars and young activists. This book can serve as an attempt to lobby for the alternative governance model for AJK.

The reviewer hails from Azad Jammu & Kashmir. He is a lecturer at the National University of Modern Languages, Islamabad, and visiting faculty at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
He tweets @Sohail_QAU

Azad Jammu and Kashmir: Polity, Politics and Power-Sharing
By Javaid Hayat
Oxford University Press, Karachi
ISBN: 978-0199408054
327pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, December 12th, 2021

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