ISLAMABAD - Top leaders of the mainstream opposition parties in the AJK shared serious reservations during all parties moot over the role of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council (AJKC), slamming it for resorting to continuous interference into the AJK’s executive, administrative, political and financial matters to adversely affect the patterns of the governance in the valley.

The AJK All Parties Conference chaired by the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan (KA&GB) was held here on Thursday to discuss proposals/recommendations for making amendments in the AJK’s interim constitution regarding the appointment of judges in AJK superior judiciary, as well as appointing the chief election commissioner (CEC), chairman Ehtesaab Bureau (EB), increasing the number of seats in both the houses of the AJK parliament and debating related constitutional matters.

Despite having serious reservations over the state of affairs in AJK under the direct supervision of the AJK Council, the leaders of major opposition parties including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Muslim Conference (MC) and Jama’at-e-Islami (JI) showed up for the moot but remained categorical in their criticism conveyed to the KA&GB minister over AJKC politically motivated role in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.  

Commenting on Wattoo’s statement that the amendments in AJK’s 1974 interim constitutional act would be made after taking all the political parties onboard, Leader of Opposition in the AJK Legislative Assembly and President PML-N AJK chapter Raja Farooq Haider Khan said, “We don’t want selective amendments in the AJK constitution. We have told them straightway in today’s conference that we demand amending the entire AJK constitution for real autonomy in AJK’s power structure to ensure effective decisionmaking at the policy level. From the judges appointment to appointing CEC and even EB chief, AJK Council calls the shots in every official matter, thanks to its boundless powers!,” he told  this scribe. 

“Those at the helm of affairs at the council had earlier tried to increase the number of seats in the AJK Legislative Assembly.

We protested and sabotaged their move. A five-member parliamentary committee was formed that is to take input from all the political parties on constitutional amendments in AJK and give its report within sixty days. If our demands are not duly reflected in the committee’s recommendations, we would launch a protest campaign,” he cautioned adding that section 21 of the AJK constitution that granted extensive legislative and executive powers to the AJK Council needed to be repealed.

“How can you expect a state to act autonomously when it doesn’t have the authority to make key decisions on governance issues? The AJKC’s monopoly needs to be brought to an end, the sooner, the better.” 

Talking to The Nation, Ameer JI AJK chapter Abdul Rasheed Turabi said, the JI and other political parties had proposed constitutional amendments in the AJK constitution regarding the judges appointment in the AJK superior judiciary and that of the chief election commissioner during Thursday’s conference. “The opposition has a role in CEC appointment in Pakistan.  In AJK, we want opposition’s role in the appointment of the judges of the superior judiciary in addition to the CEC appointment.  The constitutional amendments are necessary in order to take powers from the council and involve AJK’s opposition parties for getting the said slots filled in.”

Like Raja Farooq Haider, Turabi also suggested an end to the AJKC’s politically motivated role in AJK. “We want autonomous powers in AJK to run executive, administrative and financial affairs without any dictation from AJKC. We think, its necessary to bring an end to the AJKC’s uncalled for and endlessly interfering role. That’s necessary for the solution of key major problems confronting the AJK governance structure.”

He further said, “AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan are parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. We want an autonomous administrative structure in both these states. The GB should have its own president and prime minister like AJK and the GB too needs to be pulled out of the unnecessary control of the AJK Council. It’s high time, the AJKC is overhauled in order to keep it away from the political meddling. “

President MC and former Prime Minister AJK Sardar Attique Ahmad Khan said, the Muslim Conference would await recommendations of the parliamentary committee on the constitutional amendments in the AJK interim constitution. “These amendments are necessary to cut to size the excessively political role of the AJKC in influencing patterns of governance in the AJK. The MC would wait for the committee’s recommendations that would be arriving in two months. We would chalk out the future strategy keeping in view these recommendations.” 

Meanwhile, according to a press release, President AJK, Sardar Muhammad Yaqoob, Prime Minister, Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, former Presidents, Sardar Muhammad Anwar Khan and Raja Zulqarnain, former PMs, Sardar Attique, Barrister Sultan Mahmood Chaudhry and Raja Farooq Haider, JI Ameer Addul Rasheed Turabi, former Speaker AJK Legislative Assembly, Shah Ghulam Qadir and leaders of different parties attended the All Parties Conference.