Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) has taken centre stage in Pakistani politics as the semi-autonomous territory prepares for its general elections on July 25.
The Azad Jammu & Kashmir Legislative Assembly (AJKLA) has 33 seats that are elected from within AJK, whereas 12 seats are reserved for the refugee population that fled from Jammu and Kashmir in 1947. This population is primarily settled in Punjab, giving Punjab 10 of the 12 seats, while KP and Sindh each have one seat in the legislative assembly of AJK.
In the 2016 general elections to the AJKLA, all the ten Punjab seats were won by candidates of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which was in power at the federal and Punjab level.
Similarly, the KP seat was bagged by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which ruled the province and the Sindh seat was taken by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which governed the province.
This time, the PTI has the federal, Punjab and KP governments while the PPP retains its previous position in Sindh. The polling for these 12 seats will be held on July 25, along with 33 directly contested constituencies located in the AJK territorial limits.
At the request of the Azad Kashmir government, the federal cabinet has approved the deployment of military and paramilitary troops in addition to 11,000 police officials to ensure transparent elections on July 25.
In a letter to the interior ministry, the AJK government had sought the deployment of troops in the region to perform security duties on election day. The request was forwarded to the cabinet, which subsequently approved it.
To ensure a fair election, the federal government has decided to deploy at least 40,000 police and security officials on polling day.
Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the vice-president of PML-N, arrived in Kashmir on Thursday to campaign for the upcoming polls.
The PML-N has already suffered losses before the polls as major political players have abandoned the party. Four PML-N ministers, a presidential adviser, and assembly members have reportedly left the party before the elections.
Sardar Mir Akbar and Chaudhry Shehzad Mehmood, who are members of the legislative assembly, are expected to join PTI, along with Ali Raza. Sardar Sikander and his son Revenue Minister Farooq Sikander will join the Muslim Conference, while Raja Abdul Qayyum has returned his PML-N election ticket. Aijaz Yousaf has decided to contest the election on an independent seat.
Similarly, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is also in the region campaigning for the PPP. Addressing the public at Rawlakot on Thursday, Bilawal said the region’s upcoming general elections hold historic significance.
“Your vote will send a message to both sides of the border that no compromise can be made over Kashmir.”
Bilawal said the PPP will take instruction from the people of Kashmir. “If they want peace, we will ensure peace; if they want war, we will go for war.”