The election in Azad Kashmir was given due importance, but not more than any previous election, and certainly no one expected one of its outcomes to be the departure of the MQM from the ruling coalition, over one of the Karachi seats of the AJK Legislative Assembly, which has 12 seats elected by refugees and migrants settled in Pakistan. This has created a political crisis for the coalition, which is now dependent on the support of the PML-Q to stay in office. The PML-Q itself faces a dilemma. Staying in office means central office, not office where it needs it most, in the Punjab, where it seems to have lost half of its strength to deserters, the so-called Unification Bloc, which does not want to be in opposition, and instead wants to join the government at any cost. The PPP alliance cost the PML-Q some parliamentary members, but it is the MQM which has given it the veto power over the PPP. Of course, the PPP at any time may decide that the time is now ripe for general elections, and it is likely, if left undisturbed, to dissolve only near the end of its term. Previously, ever since the MQM came on the political scene, its departure has always meant the fall of the government. It has always formed part of the government, though it has never been a balancing force, in the sense that its departure would mean the fall of the government. The speed of its departure also indicated that the decision to leave had been taken already, and the MQM was merely searching for an appropriate excuse. Therefore, the AJK elections do not really provide an example of the tail wagging the dog, but are placed once again as a relatively minor election. The AJK elections are betwixt and between, because AJK is a 'Free State, which means it is neither an independent country, nor a constituent of the Pakistani federation. It has its own constitution, unlike the other constituents of Pakistan, whose constitutions are not independent documents, but included in the Constitution of Pakistan. The Constitution of AJK was patterned on the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, and escaped the Eighth Amendment. Therefore, in an era where Pakistan had a sort of neither presidential, nor prime ministerial Constitution, AJK had a firmly prime ministerial, something which was only regained by Pakistan through the Eighteenth Amendment. However, its elections have proceeded regularly since the elections which President Ziaul Haq conducted in 1985, as a result of which Sardar Qayyum became President of Azad Kashmir and Sardar Sikandar Hayat PM. The next elections, in 1990, were under the first PPP government, and saw the AJKPP gaining a majority, with Mumtaz Hussain Rathore becoming PM. The pattern was established of the PML ensuring a Muslim Conference win, and the PPP the AJKPP. The result has been an alternation of governments which appears to have been maintained with the win in the last election of the Muslim Conference, but that time with Sardar Qayyum giving way to his son, Sardar Attique Ahmad. This marked a generational change for Sardar Qayyum was virtually the last of the old freedom fighters still inactive politics. However, there was a split within the party, and Sardar Attique fell from office, but made a return with PPPs support. At the same time, the PML-N chose this moment of Conference disarray to make its way into the AJK politics. The PML-N may well have brought the wide world into AJK, but it tried to make Pakistani politics the basis on which AJK voters made their choice. Mian Nawaz Sharif himself entered the campaign and made President Asif Zardari the basis of his attacks on the PPP. The PPP responded in kind, With Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani coming to AJK to campaign. Though both made the usual noises, neither came out with any strategy, let alone a precise one, of how the parties intended to use government to obtain self-determination for the people of Held Kashmir. This was a disservice, because the AJK elections are not about self-government, but the Kashmir cause, and how the Muzaffarabad government will deploy its resources to obtain self-determination for all the people of Kashmir, not just those in AJK. In fact, the constitutional arrangement is such that Pakistan exerts control through the second house of the AJK legislature, the Council which has members from Pakistan, and is chaired by the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The Preamble to the Interim Constitution discusses the Kashmir issue, and as such the very fact that it is an interim Constitution shows that it is meant to last only until the Kashmir issue is decided. The prerequisite for that will be concentration on the task at hand. There would be the temptation among the Azad Kashmiris to engage in Pakistani politics what with them already being so well integrated into Pakistan that a Punjab MPA was also an AJK MLA, and because Azad Kashmiris travel outside Pakistan on Pakistani passports. The ultimate goal inherent in the slogan Kashmir banega Pakistan is for the whole state to become a Pakistani province, and not for just a part to have that status. That is why the Constitution contains a provision allowing the acceptance of further accession. No one expected the AJK elections to blow up in the face of the government, and cause a crisis at the central tier. This is not because of Azad Kashmiris involvement in Pakistani politics, but because the MQM wants to go national, and though it finds the ethnic label something of a handicap, the party still has its greatest strength in the ethnicity that gives it the seats in Karachi and Hyderabad, along with the other urban areas of the province, that make it attractive enough for no Sindh government to survive without MQM support. All governments in Sindh were formed with MQM support, though they did not really need it. Only the Muzaffar Shah government needed the MQM to survive, when the military operation against the MQM took place, but when some MQM MPAs did not resign and formed the MQM Haqiqi, the government survived. It is possible to argue that the central government fell because of its failure to pacify Karachi, but there was also the factor of the PMs quarrel with the President. In fact, the fall of every government owes itself to factors other than Karachi, but while instability there has not necessarily been the determining factor in the fall of the government, since the rise of the MQM, no central government can claim to have survived a crisis over Karachi. How long the government can pull along is now uncertain. It is true that now it has presented three budgets, and has been in office for more than three years, but this means that the next elections are now less than two years off. The government may well survive to the end of its tenure, but that will reflect that it has neither a great issue on which it feels the need for a fresh mandate, nor any desire to spring a surprise on the opposition. The previous collapses of coalitions in Sindh have taken place towards the midway mark of each tenure and going by that standard, the present seems the right time for such an event. The MQM may be going through the motions of challenging the AJK elections in court, but it seems that the real preparation for political parties should be the next elections. Though the AJK elections are not a harbinger, the withdrawal of the MQM from the Sindh government is. n Email: maniazi@nation.com.pk