The current situation of fundamental rights of people in Pakistan Administered Kashmir and Kashmiri refugees in Pakistan poses news challenges. The Supreme Court of the region has initiated a scrutiny of legal and constitutional implications of the proposed abolition of 12 refugee seats in the house of 49 members.

In last June, a petition was filed for the cancellation of the refugees’ seats in the Legislative Assembly of Pakistan Administered Kashmir. The petitioners claimed that the symbolic representation of people from Indian Jammu and Kashmir through those who migrated from there to Pakistan was in utter disregard of the fundamental rights of the people of Pakistan Administered Kashmir.

The part of Jammu and Kashmir that is under Pakistan’s control has a parliamentary democratic system.  Prime Minister of Pakistan Administered Kashmir (commonly known as Azad Kashmir) is the executive head and President is constitutional head. The parliamentary democratic setup in this part of the disputed region was introduced in 1970 on the basis of adult franchise.

The Pakistan Administered Kashmir Legislative Assembly comprises of 41 directly elected and 8 indirectly elected members, bringing the total number to 49. Of the 41 directly elected members, 6 are elected by people who had migrated from Jammu region, 6 by the refugees of Kashmir region and 21 by the people of Pakistan Administered Kashmir.

In electoral process, refugee seats play a pivotal role as they are easier to win. In order to secure a government in Pakistan Administered Kashmir, the contesting parties consider it vital to get a sweeping victory on those seats.

However, every election highlights the anomalies and violations of civil liberties in electoral system of the region. There has been a growing concern in various segments of society that allocation of seats in Pakistan Administered Kashmir Legislative Assembly is highly disproportional.  For example, it is believed by some of the key political players that Jammu is under represented while Kashmiri refugees are over represented.

A US researcher Cabeiri deBergh Robinson suggests that refugee seats in Pakistan Administered Kashmir Legislative Assembly represent an important symbolic claim, which gives legitimacy of on-going political system over all the people of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir as a whole.

Her research also highlights that the legal provisions that created the presumption of return arose out of a specific historical context. There is nothing inherently unalterable about them. Such representation is more like a gesture of goodwill aimed at showing solidarity with Kashmiris in Indian Jammu and Kashmir than actually addressing their social and political issues.

Initially, the Kashmiri refugees were kept in temporary settlements in various cities of Pakistan pending the final decision of the Kashmir dispute. However, later, they got permanent settlement in different cities and towns in almost all over Pakistan.  There were further phases of refugee movement in 1965 and 1971 wars between India and Pakistan. Another significant arrival of Kashmiri refugees was witnessed after the insurgency movement in late 80s.

Those settled in interior Pakistan have got dual voting rights. They can vote in Pakistan’s national and provincial assembly elections and also in Pakistan Administered Kashmir Legislative Assembly elections. However, the representation of people of Pakistan Administered Kashmir and refugees, who are housed in camps in Pakistan Administered Kashmir, is believed to be inconsistent with the size of the population.

Mobilizing social and economic resources in the aftermath of a conflict is a key factor in re-establishing sustainable communities. Despite of issues of governance, malpractices of local politicians in allocation of resources and controversies about Pakistan’s role in Kashmir affairs, people of this region are strong believers in democratic values. Equally, the Kashmiri refugee participation in local political system symbolically and materially demonstrates and reinforces the continuity of political role of various segments of Kashmiri society.

Division after division and decades of forced migration have created a plethora of complex manifestations all around the world. Kashmir is not aloof from such tyranny of history.