Austerity arrives in Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir

A notification has been issued by the ‘Azad’ Kashmir government’s services and General Administration Department on July 20 according to which, lifetime perks given to former and retired Chief Secretaries of Pakistan- Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK), including Inspector General of Police have been cancelled.

Generally referred to as lent officers– the Accountant General, Inspector General of Police, the Chief Secretary, Health Secretary, Postmaster General — all belong to Pakistan and are deputed to run the respective departments of the administration of the occupied territory. However, they are paid salaries and perks from the treasury of PoJK.

As Pakistan’s economy enters its freefall mode, and the value of the rupee against the dollars continues to depreciate by the day, the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is looking elsewhere to put its hand on any cash that might be available.

Rumour goes that Pakistan government is looking into the possibility of amending the interim constitution of PoJK known as Act 1974. A draft for 15th Amendment Bill is being prepared which will usurp the monetary powers from the PoJK government and effectively turn PoJK administration into a provincial entity. The deadline for the preparation for the above mentioned draft is said to be July 31.

The Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, Qamar Zaman Qahira has advised the Chief Secretary to form a sub-committee for the purpose of drafting the 15th Amendment Bill. The Chief Secretary has sent the letter to the Prime Minister of PoJK with a note that he should take the President into confidence along with political parties and nominate a three-member committee. He has advised that secretaries to the government, Arshad Qureshi and Idress Abbasi, should also be included in the consultative committee.

To appropriate the monetary powers from the government of PoJK will be a breach of trust and a blatant violation of the rights of the occupied territory.

PoJK is already in the grip of the worst kind of civil unrest for a long time and any further attacks on the economic independence of the forsaken territory would be like adding fuel to fire. Protests against load shedding, lack of wheat and price hike have engulfed the whole region.

By seizing the monetary independence of PoJK, the government of Pakistan is heading for direct confrontation with the PoJK government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). At a time, when PTI has won a landslide victory on July 17 in the Punjab by-elections, winning 16 out of 20 constituencies, Pakistan’s attempt to dig into PoJK’s coffers might not be a good idea.

If the PTI government in PoJK refuses to honour the 15th Amendment, then street protests could become even larger as the PTI would possibly join the ongoing protests in the occupied region.

As austerity arrives in PoJK, uncertainty and the threat of anarchy seem to be knocking at the door as well. Hard times might just have become a bit too unbearable this summer.

(Amjad Ayub Mirza is an author and a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoJK. He currently lives in exile in the UK)

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