As was being predicted by many on the basis of past experience, the AJK elections were won by the party in power in Islamabad. Most of the AJK voters realise, as they do in Gilgit Baltistan, that on account of close links with Pakistan and because the region’s development needs are to a significant level fulfilled by Pakistan government, it is sensible to vote for the party in power in Islamabad. In AJK’s 141.4 billion surplus budget for fiscal year 2021-22, Rs28 billion were to be provided by the government of Pakistan.
The election campaign this time has been marked by more than usual bitterness. One had expected the contesting parties to take up the problems facing the people in AJK, point out the government’s failings and spell out policies needed to improve the lot of the masses. One had also expected the party in power and the opposition to spend most of their energies on condemning the Indian govt for the ruthless suppression of the Kashmiris. It appeared however that none of the three parties was interested in raising the real issues. What one witnessed instead was that the PTI, PMLN and PPP saw the AJK elections as an opportunity to take their mud slinging match in Pakistan with greater zeal to AJK. The PTI leadership was accused of having sold Kashmir to PM Modi and of having decided to turn AJK into a province of Pakistan. The PTI as usual branded he PPP and PMLN leaders as traitors and dacoits.
A Federal Minister for Kashmir was caught on camera distributing funds among party workers for development during the campaign in violation of elections rules. He was also found to have made objectionable remarks against the opponents in his speeches. He was therefore banned from further campaigning in the elections by the region’s Election Commission. The order was however violated by the minister with impunity.
The AJK elections raise disturbing questions. Pakistan is to go through general elections two years hence. The highly toxic campaign one witnessed in the AJK elections led to violence and deaths. In case the trend continues, the level of violence could increase manifold. The AJK Election Commission failed to get its directives implemented. This raises concerns as it does not bode well for the future.