MIRPUR (AJK)-Speakers hoped that the constitutional reforms would bring about socio-economic uplift and speedy progress in all the spheres of life through the empowerment of AJK government.

President Sardar Masood Khan has said that the 13th Amendment to the AJK's Interim Constitution Act, 1974, reflects the popular demand and aspirations of the people.

AJK President Masood Khan, who is also Chancellor of the AJK-based state-run AJK Universities, expressed these views while addressing the inaugural session of a seminar on "Constitutional Reforms 2018". It was organized by the state-run Mirpur University of Science and Technology (MUST) at its main campus here on Monday.

The AJK president highly applauded the role of Prof Habibur Rahman, the vice chancellor, for taking the timely initiative to host the seminar on Constitutional Reforms 2018 and inviting some of the best minds and experts on the subject to analyse the reforms.

President Masood Khan said that the 13th Amendment is a meaningful step towards empowering the State of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, especially the Legislative Assembly and the executive headed by the Prime Minister. He added that the crux of the 13th Amendment is that it has rectified existence of two parallel administrative and financial authorities - the AJK Government and the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council.

The Amendment is an evolutionary process in constitutional reforms and does not compromise the strong bond between Pakistan and Kashmir.

The President said that Azad Kashmir's political parties, encompassing the entire spectrum, had been campaigning for and working on AJK Council's constitutional reform and, at many points, had agreed on a median of the content of these reforms. The President said that despite the Amendment's passage being widely applauded in Azad Kashmir, some critics, including legists and opposition parties, have raised questions and made suggestions for improvement. "Dissent is good in democracies and should be welcomed," he said.

Masood said that the amendment has been crafted in a manner by which the basic spirit of the constitution has not been tinkered with. Unlike the Indian Constitution - which has massively encroached on the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir - this Amendment, does not in any way, affect Pakistan's stance or that of the people of Jammu and Kashmir on the Kashmir dispute. He denounced the recent attempts of the Indian government for revoking Article 35-A of the Indian Constitution in order to pave the way for changing the demography of the IOK, a move against which is against the basic rights of the people living in an occupied territory.

The President said that this landmark Amendment has also inserted in the Preamble of the AJK Constitution necessary language that empowers the people of Azad Kashmir to pursue and foster the cause of self-determination under the resolutions passed by the United Nation Commission for India and Pakistan. This, he said, helps, gives us new opportunities and avenues to project the cause of Kashmir in the international community.

While pointing to the complexities of such amendments, the President said that the issue of the taxes, including the so-called taxes on corporations, should be on its way to resolution as our Constitution clearly states that all taxes in AJK, including income tax shall be levied by or under the authority of an Act of the AJK Assembly. Similarly, the issues in regard to distribution of assets under the control of the Council, completion of the ongoing development programmes and absorption and integration of the Council employees in the AJK civil service structure will be addressed amicably through consultations, he said.

Stressing the need for building political consensus, he said that it is imperative that we set up a follow up and implementation mechanism for the 13th Amendment, which is inclusive and fully representative. All stakeholders from Azad Kashmir and Pakistan should be on board and should be thoroughly consulted and it would be also prudent to have a dialogue of the AJK's ruling party with the opposition so as to take them into confidence about the implications of the constitutional reforms, said the President.

He said that Azad Kashmir is being enormously empowered by the 13th Amendment, which would generate new and additional resources and the pace of development in Azad Kashmir would accelerate. He said that it would translate into elimination of poverty, creation of more jobs, better standards of living for the people, rapid infrastructure development, well planned hydropower generation, better education and health facilities, environment-friendly development of our extractive industry, and a telecommunications revolution.

These achievements also demand that the government inject greater transparency and accountability in the process, he urged. The President highlighted the Kashmir issue internationally. He said, "We must never forget the sacrifices of our brothers and sisters who have been living under subjugation in the occupied territory. We must unify our strengths and reach out to the world and expose the true face of India."

Prof Mukhtar Ahmad, former chairman of Higher Education Commission, on the occasion commended the university's initiative for organising a conference of this nature and stimulating academic debate on such pertinent issues. He encouraged furthering collaborations between state and academic institutions towards scholarly research on constitutional matters.

The seminar carried different topics and themes including reform process, urgent need of good governance and accountability; empowerment or integration; A constructive debate; empowerment of the AJK and future direction of the freedom struggle against Indian occupation; Reform process and need for indigenous capacity building; Democratic progression and its vital linkage with the development of print and electronic media in the AJK; reform as a continuing process; what is in store for tomorrow.

Vice Chancellor Dr Habibur Rehman highlighted the significance of hosting of the seminar titled Constitutional Reforms-2018 organized by law department of the university.

The Vice Chancellor said that need of the seminar on the subject was felt by the University. He thanked the AJK President Sardar Masood Khan and other renowned experts in the related field for gracing the occasion through expressing their valuable views and thoughts on various related subjects, he added. He said that the seminar proved beneficial for the institutions besides the peoples of the AJK - since hosting of the seminar is the unique honour for the University.