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PaK- Ethnicity, democracy and Islam

(An excerpt from article “PaK: Ethnicity, Democracy and Islam” taken from book titled “Of Occupation and Resistance, Writings from Kashmir”)

 By Mazhar Iqbal

The successive governments in Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir (PaK), have cleverly manipulated the media to publicise stories of good governance, democratic success and people’s unflinching allegiance to a particular branch of Islamic faith. But the fundamental issues related to Pakistan’s xenophobic and authoritarian attempts at controlling people’s political and civil rights, and the weaknesses of a socio-political system which is based on religious dogma have never been openly addressed.

There are a number of stories, myths and legendary statements about ethnic diversity, religious harmony, ideal political and social situations, democratic successes and a peaceful and harmonious balance of power between the ruled and the ruler in PaK. It is stated that PaK is not officially administered by Pakistan. But in reality, both territories of PaK, the Gilgit-Baltistan region and the areas between the districts of Neelum and Bhimber, are officially, administratively and manipulatively controlled by Pakistan. Though they are not formally regarded as being part of Pakistani territory, and the political, judicial and administrative systems adopted by these territories are labelled as being independent and separate from other federating units of Pakistan, the strategic influence of the federal Pakistani government is evident everywhere in the affairs of the state.

Prior to August 2000, all Pakistani provinces were made up of administrative units called divisions, and these were further subdivided into districts as the fourth level of government. In August 2000, divisions were abolished as an administrative tier, and the provinces are now directly divided into districts. But in PaK, in order to ensure stricter control, the second tier of government is formed by just two administrative divisions with a third tier of districts.

According to the 1998 census, the population of only one district of Pakistan (Lahore) was 6,318,745. Interestingly, the population of the whole of PaK (excluding Gilgit-Baltistan) in 2008 was 4,567,982 (estimated) and there were 10 district governments to control this population. If area is the main consideration for administrative control then the total land area of districts like Chaghi, Kharan and Khuzdar in Baluchistan is three times larger than all 10 districts in PaK. So why is Chaghi, measuring more than 50,000 kilometres, not further subdivided into 10 or 12 districts? The reason is obvious: The population density in Chaghi is only 4 people per kilometre.

In fact, the federal government not only exercises significant control over the structure of government, and the appointment of judges, top bureaucrats and other functionaries, but also effectively creates sectarian, political and ethnic differences – and it is all done under a legal cover. The most influential bodies like the Kashmir Council and the Gilgit-Baltistan Council are composed of both federal officials and members of the local assemblies and headed by the prime minister of Pakistan.

There is widespread misconception that the part of Jammu and Kashmir state, which is under the control of Pakistan, is now free and liberated from ‘foreign’ rule. This claim is supported by references to the Interim Constitution Act of 1974 (the document in accordance with which PaK is governed), and the arrangements made under this legal framework. One often hears the boast that the Interim Constitution gives wide-ranging powers to the people of this region. But in reality, the federal government of Pakistan is empowered to supersede laws passed by the assemblies of these areas and its decisions are not subject to judicial review, even by the superior courts of the country.

This Act has been strongly rejected by Kashmiri leaders in a recent meeting with Pakistan’s minister of Kashmir affairs in Islamabad. This, even though all those who attended that meeting were handpicked and already in the good books of Islamabad. They declared that the Act, in its present shape, was not acceptable to them.

Pakistan has always boasted about the success of its democratic institutions, the efficacy of its administrative system and the continuity of democratic governments in PaK. Yet, the picture on the ground shows the colours to be less bright than they seem from a distance, and the democratic face reveals itself as one that is painted.

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