MIRPUR (AJK)-The Azad Jammu Kashmir Legislative Assembly and the AJK Council approved the much-awaited 13th Amendment in Act 1974, the Constitution of AJK, further empowering the the State government.

Azad Jammu & Kashmir thus achieved a major breakthrough in its over 70-year administrative history after the joint sitting of the houses. It is the historic move unprecedented in the 48 years history since the constitutional democracy was introduced in 1970 as Joint Session of AJK Legislative Assembly and AJK Council amended the constitution to transfer executive and legislative powers from Azad Jammu Kashmir Council to Azad government of the State of Jammu & Kashmir.

The joint sitting, held late Friday in AJK's capital city with Speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir in the chair accorded approval to the Thirteenth Amendment in the Constitution of Azad Jammu and Kashmir with majority vote.

The bill titled Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution (Thirteenth Amendment) Act 2018 was presented in the house by Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs, Javed Iqbal Chaudhry. Earlier, the committee of the house on bills presented its report.

After the passage of the bill, AJK Minister for Youth, Sports and Culture, Chaudhry Muhammad Saeed tabled resolution of thanks, which was adopted by the house. Through the resolution, the house expressed its profound gratitude to the outgoing federal cabinet for according approval to the constitutional reforms package on the recommendations of National Security Committee to transfer powers from Kashmir Council to AJK Legislative Assembly and the state government.

The transfer of powers will help grant many fundamental rights to the AJK citizens as were admissible to the people of Pakistan under the 1973 Constitution. Before the amendment, Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council with Prime Minister of Pakistan its Chairman was functioning as executive authority by exercising more powers than the elected assembly and government of the state.

Under amended constitution most of powers earlier exercised by the council would transfers to AJK Legislative Assembly and government leaving the Kashmir Council to function as an advisory body.

Now, all the moveable and immoveable properties and assets including moneys funds received and deposited in Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council Consolidated Fund or made part of Public Finance immediately shall be transferred to Azad Jammu and Kashmir Consolidated Fund.

The AJK government would have legislative, administrative and financial powers like that of other provinces and the right to make laws and legislation for the territory will rest with AJK Legislative Assembly only.

The law also enshrines holding of Legislative Assembly sessions for at least 60 days in a year, while constitutional protection was given to the 12 seats reserved for Kashmiri refugees settled in Pakistan.

Four more constituencies would be created in the AJK territory on the basis of increased population. The strength of the cabinet would be 30pc of total strength but it would be applicable from the next assembly. The office of acting premier had also been abolished.

All the existing employees in the service of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council who immediately before commencement of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution (Thirteenth Amendment) Act, 2018 were serving on regular basis under superintendence and control of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council for any department, secretariat or any statutory body or institution/organization duly constituted or setup under any law or through its executive authority shall stand transferred or shifted to the government.

However the government of Pakistan through Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council will continue to perform responsibilities assigned to it under United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) resolutions.

The responsibilities are included defence and security of AJK, concurrent coin or the issue of the bill notes or the other paper currency, external affairs of AJK including foreign aid and trade, telegraph and other means of communication, nuclear energy, aircraft and air navigation, banking, stock exchange, airways, geographical and meteorological organizations, weights and measures.

The state and the legislature have emerged empowered to exhaustively their legislative powers and executive authority in dignified way. The constitutional reforms are expected to result in better governance, socio-economic development of the territory and in particular general welfare of the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in the sustained manner.

It was 43 years long arduous and nerves- racking struggle carried forward by many governments and head of the governments and finally won by Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider Khan and his team. There are many among the politicians of the state who wanted more than what they were offered. But it is not final destiny. It is just beginning towards more better and prosperous future for the people of the state.

There was an atmosphere of despondency and frustration in AJK capital till Thursday evening as the federal government headed Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi did not approved the constitutional package for AJK.

However outgoing federal cabinet just a few hours before relinquishing the powers took decision for disposal of pending legislative cases. The federal cabinet accorded approval for tabling of the constitutional reforms package before the joint session of Legislative Assembly and Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council.