Wednesday, Dec 01, 2021

The 'Self-Governance' Bogey

If General Musharraf's model is Northern Areas or even 'Azad Jammu & Kashmir', he ought to first check with Pakistan's own Supreme Court to learn the lack of self-governance in those regions of Kashmir.

The 'Self-Governance' Bogey
The 'Self-Governance' Bogey

Many observers in Jammu and Kashmir (hereafter called Kashmir) believe today that the solution to the nearly 60-year old problem may lie in self-governance. Before we explore the concept further, it is important to address what actually led to the 'Kashmir problem' in the first place: the fear of trans-nationalism.

This aspect is not much discussed, mainly because most of the relevant records were not available until very recently. In fact, many of "political and secret department records" from 1947 that were prepared by the Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO) – now called the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – were declassified about ten years ago. The India Office Records, which used to be administered by the CRO, are now administered as Public Records in the British Library Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections based in London. 

With honourable exceptions - to name two prominent authors, Alistair Lamb and Chandrashekhar Dasgupta - surprisingly, not many South Asian scholars have shown much eagerness to learn from these 50-year old papers that have now been available for almost a decade. These documents allow the clearest view of how the Whitehall, British Military, CRO, Governor-General and Chairman of India’s National Defense Committee, British High Commissioners in New Delhi and Karachi, as well as Indian and Pakistani cabinet ministers, pondered publicly and privately on issues surrounding Kashmir before and after it was invaded in 1947. 

And what do some of the declassified papers show? For one, the role played by the British bureaucracy is abundantly clear in setting the markers for the British policy in the subcontinent with Philip Noel-Baker, as the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, leading the charge both in defining the approach related to Kashmir’s future and in protecting British strategic interests in the subcontinent. But it was left to the British High Commissioner in Pakistan, Lawrence Grafftey-Smith, who had this to say about the Governor-General of India accepting the accession of Kashmir in a memorandum to Noel-Baker (reproduced from File L/P&S/1845 dated 29 October 1947): 

"Indian government’s acceptance of accession of Kashmir is the heaviest blow yet sustained by Pakistan in her struggle for existence. Strategically, the frontier of Pakistan which must be considered as requiring defense is very greatly extended since India would gain direct access to the North-West Frontier and tribal areas where infinite mischief can be made with "Pathanistan" or other slogans. Afghanistan policy will almost certainly change for the worse; and disturbances and disorders in Gilgit and the North West Frontier zone generally may excite Russian interests and appetites."

Indeed the British administration, while being generally supportive of the accession - but insisting on plebiscite - did believe that Indian control of the western borderlands of the princely state (and especially the western region of Jammu) would pose a grave threat to Pakistan which could lead to Balkanization of West Pakistan, and would upset Britain's own strategic interests since at that time the Whitehall and the Pakistani government were also actively discussing a military alliance that would maintain British military presence in the north-west frontier region. 

Once the Indian counter-attack began on October 27, 1947 (five days after the Pakistani army and its surrogates had launched the invasion into Kashmir), the British diplomatic and military directives were mostly focused on securing Srinagar and retaking portions of the Kashmir valley occupied by invaders, whereas the Indian army suddenly found it "difficult" to retake portions of Jammu region seized by the invading force from Pakistan. The British held all the cards: Mountbatten, not Nehru, was the head of India’s cabinet defense committee (a mistake by Nehru that is considered to be among his biggest blunders), and the military chiefs in India and Pakistan were British nationals reporting to a British supreme commander. Political directives from the Whitehall to British civil and military officers in the subcontinent were precise in stating that India should be denied full reoccupation of Maharaja’s princely state and a cease-fire should take place along a well delineated boundary that disconnected Indian Kashmir from Pakistan.  

The declassified papers also clearly show how the British Prime Minister Atlee tricked Nehru in believing that Indian initiative to approach the United Nations (UN) on the Kashmir aggression would be followed up by vigorous effort on part of the British-led Indian Army to retake Poonch and Mirpur areas from Pakistani invaders, when in fact the British had no such plans. Indian inexperience in international diplomacy and British cunning are two of the main messages that come through in the 50-year old secret documents. 

Another point which doesn't get as much attention as it deserves is the one relating to how the West's policy vis-a-vis Israel has also had an effect on Kashmir. Consider, for example, the British Foreign Office minute to Prime Minister Attlee of 6 January 1948, file FO 800/470, Public Record Office, London:

"With the situation as critical as it is in Palestine, Mr Bevin [the then Foreign Secretry] feels that we must be very careful to guard against the danger of aligning the whole of Islam against us, which might be the case were Pakistan to obtain a false impression of our attitude in the Security Council.."

My point in all of this is that if one does not know this historical perspective, how is one to fully comprehend why the "Bus Service" linking Indian and Pakistani portions of Kashmir has not paid the kind of immediate dividends that many observers had hoped for? In the one year since the service was initiated on April 7, 2005, only 600 people have availed of this service. Is it because it is extremely excruciating to get approval for boarding the bus (as many would have you believe) or is it simply because there are just not that many "divided families" to begin with, notwithstanding the propaganda that vested interests have unleashed?  

The reality is that the line of control (LOC) is more or less a pretty clean division between various ethnic entities that make up the old princely state and that the current boundary can sustain regional stability even when its political future is questioned. As borne out by the history that includes four wars, the LOC provides military and geo-political stability in the subcontinent. Furthermore, travel across the LOC does represent a major confidence building measure (CBM) as I will explain a bit later. 

Having linked the genesis of the Kashmir problem to the fear of Pashtun trans-nationalism the British believed would be unleashed if the "Frontier Gandhi" (Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, who the British saw as being pro-India) was to have a sympathetic sponsor on the eastern borders of Pakistan’s north-west frontier province (meaning Indian Kashmir), it is time to shift to possible solutions. 

Most policy analysts have their own "pet approaches" and I have experienced that first hand in Washington when I see scholars arguing for the "same old, same old" (i.e., "India needs to do more") solutions, when the writing on the wall is clear that any future solution to the Kashmir problem will be people-centric, rather than land-centric, and apply equally to both parts of Kashmir. But one topic that is very hot these days is self-governance.  

The recent introduction of the concept of "self-governance" has a bit of ironic history. It was preceded by the concept of "mutual demilitarization" and both concepts most recently were proposed by General Pervez Musharraf, the President and the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) of Pakistan. General Musharraf has already created new lexicology of political terms by redefining democracy, the rule of law and the freedom of press in Pakistan. So it was only natural that he would redefine other equally pertinent terms to suit his brand of governance. 

On October 8, 2005, parts of Pakistani-Administered Kashmir, especially around Muzaffarabad, were subjected to a violent earthquake, and the loss of life and property was not only immense, but also well beyond Pakistani’s ability to manage. There were reports that many Kashmiri terrorist camps in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) were destroyed along with Jihadi warriors occupying those training camps. 

As if to dispel the hopes of optimists, terrorists struck with vengeance in New Delhi on October 29, 2005, killing 62 people and wounding over 200. Indian security officials connected the outrage to operatives belonging to the Laskar-e-Toiba (LeT), an organization declared by the U.S. to be a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). The LeT is based in Lahore, Pakistan, and since being listed as FTO has conducted its operations under the name of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). It would be only natural for General Musharraf to create a convenient diversion to turn the focus away from the LeT which is known to have close links with the Pakistan’s Military Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).  

That is exactly what happened two days later on October 31, 2005. Popularly called the "Iftar Diplomacy," since the General has a history of making dramatic announcements in his first meeting with the press after Ramadan, he proposed that both India and Pakistan should demilitarize on their respective sides of Kashmir. Taken to task by India for indulging in public grandstanding rather than serious bilateral diplomacy, the General quietly retreated to prepare for another weighty announcement at the next opportune moment. 

He did not have to wait long. In a meeting with visiting All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) leaders from Srinagar on January 5, 2006, General Musharraf brought up the issue of self-governance. The press quoted him saying that, "For any solution to Kashmir to be durable, it has to be in accordance with wishes of Kashmiri people. I hope that India would respond positively to Pakistan’s proposal to demilitarize the disputed Himalayan region and grant it self-governance."  

The Kashmiri visitors, who have accumulated considerable wealth for themselves and their clans while clamouring for independence on the Indian side of Kashmir, were quick to pick up the new mantra. Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, the leader of the visiting separatist delegation chimed in by saying, "the proposal for self-governance in Kashmir should be addressed," though he could not say then or later what exactly was meant by "self-governance", considering that Indian Kashmir is governed by locally elected officials who are predominantly Kashmiri Muslim politicians and administrators and the state enjoys (relatively speaking) a great degree of political autonomy within India. 

I subsequently participated in a Voice of America (VOA) Urdu program that brought together South Asian political analysts from the US, Kashmir, India and Pakistan. No one could even guess what General Musharraf meant by self-governance during that discussion. I suggested that since the General does not feel any need for improvement on his side of Kashmir, it may be that General Musharraf’s models of self-governance were the political instruments of governance in either the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) or the Northern Areas (NA). Let us examine those models and try to see if we can come up with General Musharraf’s definition of self-governance. 

The two areas of Pakistan Administered Kashmir – AJK and NA – follow differing models of governance. Areas of Gilgit and Baltistan were separated from the rest of the Pakistani held territory and were directly ruled by a Political Agent, a system that was in place during the colonial rule. The AJK, on the other hand, had a Presidential form of government, but until 1970 the President of AJK was appointed and dismissed by Pakistani officials. The first legislative assembly of AJK was established in 1971. It passed the "Interim Constitution of Azad Kashmir Act, 1974," that introduced a parliamentary system of governance by creating the AJK Legislative Assembly ("Lower House") and the AJK Council ("Upper House"). The Legislative Assembly currently has 49 seats and the Council is comprised of 14 members. 

Superficially, it looks like a good working architecture. That is until you look into the details. 

The AJK Council is chaired by the Prime Minister of Pakistan and its Vice-Chairman is the President of AJK. The Prime Minister of Pakistan appoints five members of the Council among federal ministers and members of the National Assembly (all Pakistanis), the Prime Minister of AJK is an ex-officio member and the rest are selected from the AJK Assembly.  

In the 49 seat Assembly, 41 are elected directly with 12 of those seats (30%) assigned to "refugees settled outside of AJK", and the remaining 8 elected indirectly (five reserved for women, one each for religious scholar, technocrat and an overseas expatriate). The 12 Mohajir seats based mostly in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar usually tilt the political balance in the AJK politics, and there are times when some "desirable candidates" (desirable to the Pakistani military-supported establishment) who may face harsh prospects in AJK safely get elected from one of the Mohajir seats. 

Laws passed by the AJK Council do not have to be approved by the AJK Assembly, and they do not need the assent of the President of AJK. However, laws passed by the AJK Assembly have to be approved by the Council and require Presidential assent. In reality the AJK Council is "managed" by the Federal Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and is so closely associated with the Pakistani government that most AJK citizens believe the Council probably meets in Islamabad since it is practically invisible in Muzaffarabad. The majority of the AJK citizens are mostly ignorant about workings of the AJK Council that controls almost all official business and laws that affect daily lives of its people. 

AJK just conducted an election for the Assembly on July 11, 2006. The prospect of winning various Mohajir seats attracted the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), and the People’s Muslim League (PML) to participate in the AJK elections, in addition to regular players, namely, the Muslim Conference (MC) and the Pakistan People’s party (PPP). Candidates from political parties that question Pakistani claims on Kashmir were disqualified. Amid allegations of rigging, MC won 19 seats, PPP won 7 seats, PML won 4 seats, MQM won 2 seats, and the rest of the contested seats are scattered among independents and minor parties. In most parliamentary institutions the legislative body is intended to be pluralistic so as to guard against the tyranny of the majority. Yet, the Islamabad establishment is taking no chances and  the Prime Minister, the President, the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker all belong to the same party (MC) which enjoys full confidence of General Musharraf. 

But if the polity of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) is a shining example of self-governance, the self-governance in the Northern Areas (NA) is worthy of a gold medal. 

The NA are officially known as Gilgit and Baltistan. Following the cease-fire between India and Pakistan, the Pakistani government "negotiated" an instrument of governance within the Pakistan-Administered Kashmir in April 1949. It is known as the "Karachi Pact" and should not be confused with the "Karachi Agreement" signed on July 18, 1949 between India and Pakistan under auspices of the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan. 

The Karachi Pact was signed by Nawab Mushtaq Gurmani, representing the government of Pakistan, Sardar Ibrahim Khan, representing the Azad Kashmir government, and Choudhry Ghulam Abbas, representing the MC. Two interesting observations are of interest:

First, no representative from the NA participated in this Pact and yet the deal was made to put all affairs of the NA under the control of the "Political Agent" assigned by the government of Pakistan. 

Second, the Karachi Pact may not be an official document after all. Sardar Ibrahim Khan stated in a public gathering in London (in front of Dr. Shabir Choudhry and others) that he did not sign any such agreement. 

Indeed, my colleague Khalid Hasan of the Daily Times (Lahore), who once used to be part of the Pakistani political establishment, has more than once mentioned that the "so-called Karachi Agreement is of doubtful legality" and "no copy of this Agreement exists in the government records." And yet it is true that the matters of life and death in the NA were once decided by a mere Joint Secretary in Pakistan’s Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. 

In practice every Pakistani government since 1949 has treated the NA as a colony of Pakistan, although some Pakistani officials after 1970 have claimed that these areas are a part of Pakistan. I say this because for many years people in the NA were denied not only the right of franchise, but also the right of legal recourse to courts either in Pakistan or AJK. In effect, the people of the NA were denied their basic human rights by politicians and military rulers in Pakistan while the same leaders were clamouring for wars of liberation to annex Indian Kashmir.  

Even though it was as early as in 1972 that the AJK Assembly passed a resolution demanding the return of the NA from Pakistani direct control to AJK (this and many similar appeals were simply ignored by successive Pakistani governments), it was not until 1993 that the full bench of the AJK High Court passed a verdict that the administrative system of the NA is arbitrary, and its governance should be handed over to the AJK government.  

The Pakistan government challenged this order in the "AJK Supreme Court," which came forth with a compromise decision in 1994, holding that "the verdict we reach is that the NA are part of the J&K State but not part of AJK as defined by the Interim Constitution Act of 1974." The Pakistani government received an assuring nod that it can continue its policy of isolating the NA from AJK and maintain its direct authority over Gilgit and Baltistan. 


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