‘We have no seat in Pakistani parliament’: Justice (retd) Syed Manzoor Hussain Gillani

The former Chief Justice of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir speaks about the recent unrest in the region, and more.

Published : May 27, 2024 18:50 IST - 5 MINS READ

Justice (retd) Manzoor Gillani.

Justice (retd) Manzoor Gillani. | Photo Credit: By Special Arrangement

The life story of Justice (retd) Syed Manzoor Hussain Gillani, who was born and brought up in Karnah, in the border region of Jammu and Kashmir, reads like a perfect Bollywood masala film. His parents travelled to PoK in 1947, leaving him, then 2 years old, in the care of his grandparents. His parents could not return because war had broken out by then and stayed back in Muzaffarabad. He attended the Government Degree College in Baramulla and then went to Aligarh Muslim University to pursue a degree in law. When he visited his parents for the first time in the late 1970s, they convinced him to stay back in Muzaffarabad. The author of five books, he has held positions such as Advocate General, Vice Chancellor of a university, and Chief Justice. A leading legal luminary in the region, he spoke to Frontline from Muzaffarabad about the recent unrest in PoK. Excerpts from the interview:

Why did the crisis escalate in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir?

The crisis escalated because the government ignored demands for equal treatment in subsidies, especially in flour prices, which also apply to Gilgit-Baltistan. These tensions surfaced publicly when the Rawalakot-based Awami Action Committee of Poonch raised these concerns on May 8, 2023.

The introduction of new taxes on electricity bills in August 2023, which were labelled as “protected” and “unprotected” taxes, further aggravated the situation. This led to widespread protests initiated by students of Muzaffarabad University and supported by local traders. These demonstrations also brought to light issues relating to the Neelum-Jhelum hydropower project. In response, the government arrested numerous people in September last year. Tensions came to a head when a Deputy Commissioner in Dodyal was attacked on May 9 after he tried to disperse a crowd, and protesters marched towards Muzaffarabad the next day.

Apart from these economic problems, what were the other factors that led to the unrest, and was anything done about it?

Basically, there is a structural problem in the relationship between Pakistan-administered Kashmir [PAK] and the Pakistani government. Only when they are streamlined under a constitutional mechanism will the problems be solved. In my opinion, whatever the Pakistani government does here in practice should be governed by specific constitutional provisions so that there is some accountability to the Parliament and the Supreme Court of Pakistan. There is no doubt that it is being administered by Pakistan in a similar manner as the provinces of Pakistan, but there must be a regulatory mechanism under the Constitution of Pakistan.

Also Read | Protests in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir reflect frustration with disempowerment and interference from Islamabad

Your side of Kashmir has not been as politically active as the Indian side of Kashmir. Why?

Lack of bold leadership like that of Sardar Ibrahim Khan, Sardar Qyoom Khan, and K.H. Khursheed is the main reason. There is no voice at the national level. The governments in Muzaffarabad bow to pressure from the Pakistani bureaucracy. Secondly, one-third of the 45 Assembly segments are reserved for non-resident nationals, commonly referred to as refugees from the Indian part of Kashmir. They do not live in Kashmir [Pakistan-administered Kashmir] and have no stake, but they influence the results and have a say in the formation of the government. They are dependent on the bureaucracy for various reasons such as issuance of residency certificates.

Since you have seen both parts of Kashmir, how do you compare them in terms of political power, distribution of resources, and so on?

The Indian part of Kashmir is governed by the Indian Constitution and is represented in Parliament and often in the Union government, and there is oversight by the Supreme Court of India. Apart from that, there has also been vocal leadership. If we minus what happened to Jammu and Kashmir on the Indian side after August 2019 and some other things, we realise that the institutions on that side are comparatively strong.

What is the political structure of PoK?

The region has a parliamentary form of government consisting of a Legislative Assembly, which is responsible for local affairs, headed by the Prime Minister and has a President as the symbolic head of state. And then there is another structure, the AJK [Azad Jammu and Kashmir] Council, which is headed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The catch is that all executive matters are the responsibility of the AJK Council, which is not an elected body and represents the Pakistani government.

Whatever policy matters and decisions the Pakistani government takes for the other provinces ipso facto applies to AJK as well. Unlike the Indian part, we have no representation in the Pakistani parliament. Almost all national political parties operating in Pakistan have their branches in AJK, and the party that forms the government in Islamabad usually governs in Muzaffarabad as well.

Also Read | ‘The election is an opportunity to end silence in Kashmir’: Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra

After the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, is there a fear that this territory will be annexed to Pakistan?

Apart from the constitutional arrangement, AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan are integrated with Pakistan in every respect. Apart from the scanty voices in favour of an independent Kashmir, people do not feel alienated from the rest of Pakistan. There is only formal constitutional assimilation left, which has been publicly expressed after the abrogation of Article 370.

Of late, many Indian leaders have been vowing to reclaim PoK, and it is even being suggested that the people there could start a movement and join the Indian Union. What is the legal and factual situation?

In my view, all agreements between the princely states and the British government lapsed on August 15, 1947. Therefore, the State of Jammu and Kashmir became technically free from August 1947. Parts of the State were liberated by the people from the forces of the local Dogra ruler, and they proclaimed their government on October 24, 1947. When Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India, he was left with the part that had remained under him, not the part that had been liberated from him. The AJK government later entered into an agreement in which it ceded its sovereignty to Pakistan (Karachi Agreement of April 1948). That is the legal and factual position, which has remained hidden from the Indian public.

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