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Pendle.Net -> Kashmir - 1999 Visit -> Local Government Report

Study Visit To Azad Kashmir And Pakistan
Report By Group Three

Introduction

The members of the group were:-

His Worship the Mayor, Councillor Colin Waite; Alan Davies, Leader Pendle Borough Council, Peter Moss, Pendle Borough Councillor; Peter Dewhurst, Leader Times Newspapers; Rahila Bano, BBC Radio Lancashire; Sharan Hurst, Kashmir Working Group; Mohammed Aslam, Kashmir Working Group; Jamil Munir, Kashmir Working Group; Teresa Hurst, Student; Philip Mousdale, Pendle Borough Council.

The group was predominantly made up of councillors, council officers and representatives of the press and local radio to look at how services in the area are provided to public. However, this would include a wide range of services rather than just direct council issues.

The group was therefore keen to see examples of schools, health facilities, policing, law, youth services, culture and heritage preservation, entertainment and leisure facilities, land use and tenancies etc.

The group also wished to get a general over-view of life for people in the Azad Kashmir/Punjab region in a bid to understand the background from which many of Pendle' Asian heritage community members come. One key aspect of this would be to examine the effects of the division of Kashmir on the population, especially those living in the Indian held part or who were refugees from there.

The group was also interested in the human rights issues of the conflict.

Government

We learned about government at all levels. Whilst we did not meet any national government politicians or officials we made a point of reading closely the national newspapers. The newspapers seemed quite critical of national politics and the judicial system. As in some other Third World countries there are questions about the true extent of democracy. For example, to get elected to the National Assembly a person would have to put up a lot of money to run his election machine. He would then need to use his political contacts to recoup his expenditure and maintain his lifestyle. There is an inevitable danger of patronage and corruption in all this.

We met the Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir and several of his senior ministers on several occasions. We were given briefings about the work of their departments, e.g. health, education and local government. They have been working up policy documents for the development of the region. Enhancement of the environment and sustainable development was a big theme. Issues include the heavy dependence on agriculture, the land use constraints due to the mountains, limited income potential leading to migration of young men, inappropriate use of land, environmental problems arising from poverty, a slow and inefficient bureaucracy, and the need for women to become more involved in the economy through education and training. The Regional Government is working closely with the United Nations Development Programme.

In the Punjab region we met the Ministers for Education and Health. In the education field there is something of a revolution going on to move away from an over centralised system. Ideas such as school governing bodies and local management were being adopted from the British system. We met the Health Minister in a room straight out of the colonial past with the portraits of British Army Surgeon Generals displayed.

At the local level we met representatives of several councils of varying sizes and with a variety of functions. At one extreme was the City of Lahore with its population of somewhere between 5 and 8 million people. The Lord Mayor who until very recently had been the Prime Minister of Pakistan's political adviser told us about the progress the city was making in building roads and dealing with sanitation. It had been complimented recently at an international Agenda 21 conference - a bit surprising in view of its obvious air pollution. The city was divided up into 8 areas each under the control of a deputy mayor. To raise more revenue he was proposing a tax on residents in areas where the council had carried out improvements such as a new road. An interesting idea this 'betterment' tax. The city had 301 councillors. We were interested to read in the newspaper that the first council meeting of the new municipal year had been abandoned because no agreement could be reached on where the political parties should sit in the chamber! Not a million miles from Pendle!

We also met the Mayor and councillors for Lala Musa. They were interested to hear our explanations of how councils worked in this country, elections, etc. They were keen to learn from us as to how their living candidates could be improved. Their own priorities were health and sanitation and education and in particular they wanted to see schools provided in each village.

It was also fascinating to talk with the District Administrator in Bhimber. He had 52 staff who undertook a range of administrative and financial work. The budget was small but he personally had total discretion over this. His council had responsibility for local road and sanitation and for providing small schools and clinics. He proudly showed us a recently built suspension bridge crossing a wide river; without it part of the district is simply cut off for 3 months a year. It demonstrated the difficulty of achieving projects like this in a poor country; it would not have been built without the World Bank providing the money.

We also visited Mirpur and met the City Administrator. Mirpur is one of the most prosperous areas and has links with Birmingham and Oldham. Indeed the Lord Mayor of Birmingham was visiting at the same time as us. A big problem for the town was its sanitation system - designed for a population of 20,000 which had now reached 100,000. From what the City Administrator told us and what we saw there was much business development going on. The town was engaged in teacher exchanges with Oldham. Generally they needed more technical assistance to exploit fully their growing wealth. They had a novel way of dealing with homeless people - simply give them a plot of land which they could use as they wished whether by just pitching a tent or by building a house. A fascinating insight was given into how food production is being increased across Azad Kashmir through the Food and Livestock Department, e.g. through cross breeding of cattle. Our final visit to see how a council worked was at Dinga. The Mayor had lived in Nelson and Bolton in the 1960's and 1970's and we met most of the council. The town has two councillors who must be women and one councillor who must be non-Muslim.

Schools

We saw a wide range of schools. The report of the Education group deals with the education issues arising. None of us could fail to be impressed by the obvious dedication of the teachers under what is clearly an under-resourced system. Classrooms were often over-crowded with antiquated furniture and there was the bare minimum of teaching materials. Many of the buildings were in need of attention.

There was a general recognition from the people we spoke to that education was a priority for the country and vital for it to advance.

Health facilities

Likewise we visited a range of health facilities. There is no national health system as in this country and provision is piecemeal. As with schools, buildings were often in a poor condition and equipment minimal. Generally it seemed that only the basic level of care could be provided, through the dedication of nurses and doctors. There were massive problems in the way of better provision, apart from the finance required. Even such things as patients' record keeping was virtually impossible and every time a person visited a clinic the only way was to treat them as a new referral.

The report of the Health Group deals with the issues in health provision in full.

Transportation

Pakistan's transport infrastructure is very limited. One of the railway lines runs from north to south, a legacy of the British Army's occupation. A motorway has recently been built from Islamabad to Lahore. We travelled on it and as yet it seems very underused, perhaps because there are few links into it. It is an interesting example of what in this country we would call a 'private finance initiative'. It was built by the car manufacturers Daewoo who will maintain it and keep the toll charges for eleven years. After that it will be handed over to the Government.

Other roads are generally in poor condition in our terms, usually a narrow strip of tarmac in the middle with dirt and gravel on either side. Oncoming drivers challenge you for the available tarmac! In the north of Azad Kashmir the road through the mountains is a hair-raising series of hairpin bends and steep climbs. It was built by the British Army and now the Pakistan forces maintain it and clear the snow because it is such a vital route for them.

Roads in the cities are somewhat better. Islamabad is modern, built on a grid pattern and has impressive wide boulevards. Lahore is currently undertaking an extensive road building programme and its Lord Mayor boasted of 385 new roads created in 365 days. We saw some of this going on with soldiers as the workmen.

Needless to say traffic conditions are generally chaotic. Brightly coloured lorries and buses, private cars, bicycles, donkeys and carts, rickshaws all compete for the available space. In Lahore and Rawalpindi it was evident that gridlock was the frequent result, with everyone edging forward inch by inch. Anyone with a horn uses it at every opportunity.

Policing

We gained an insight into policing both in urban and rural areas.

The most immediate thing to strike us was that all policemen routinely carry rifles, are dressed in military style uniforms, and generally drive around in jeeps.

We received a fascinating talk from the Assistant Chief of Police in Lahore about the problems they face. The biggest is traffic control and the force is lagging behind in terms of mobility, specialised equipment and financed and manpower resources. Many of their policemen spend many long hours on traffic control duty, for very poor pay. On the spot fines have recently been introduced in the city, and new traffic management measures such as bus lanes and parking prohibitions are being brought in. A fundamental difficulty in implementing these changes is public education and awareness and a programme of lectures, distribution of leaflets and enforced training of drivers is being undertaken.

Crime in the city is mainly petty. Violent crime is relatively rare though there has been some increase in this recently. Alcohol consumption is not a problem but drug trafficking is a growing one with gangs operating. Juvenile nuisance is increasing slightly but it seems that family pressures on young people to behave responsibly are stronger than in this country.

In the more rural area of Bhimber we toured the local police station. There were 45 policemen for a population of 100,000. They had little equipment or vehicles but then there was little crime. They were dependent on the bigger cities for help with forensics etc., when serious crime did occur. Their main concerns were traffic and also the border conflict. The working conditions of the ordinary police officer were interesting. They worked or were on call 24 hours a day, virtually every day of the year. They slept in a dormitory and ate in a canteen in the station premises. They might get 2 or 3 days a year to visit their families. A year's cadetship was required. To reach the level of inspector the equivalent of 'A' levels was required and the equivalent of a degree to become a chief officer. The basic pay was 3,000 rupees per month. Despite the low pay and the conditions it was seen as a worthwhile job to go into.

The Legal System

Pakistan has a system of local courts which deal with both civil and criminal cases. a judge presides over them. The term 'magistrate' is used rather differently to this country. It means an administrator responsible for law and order in the area rather than someone who decides on cases.

There were many reports in the Pakistan press about the decisions of the Supreme Court. Some of these were about constitutional issues. Whilst we were there it ruled that recently created military courts for the trial of civilians were unlawful.

The land system is a source of frequent dispute, sometimes violent. A relatively minor government official has great power in determining what belongs to whom and disputes and appeals can take generations to resolve. It is a frequent source of allegations of corruption.

Lawyers act as both solicitors and barristers and tend to practice on their own rather than in large partnerships.

The Kashmir Conflict

It was very clear to us that the continuing conflict has a profound effect on the people of Azad Kashmir. The state and Pakistan are both forced to spend a very substantial proportion of their resources on defence and this is holding back improvements in health, education, etc.

We drove to within one mile of the 'line of fire' in a spectacularly beautiful valley laid out with small farms. Skirmishes occur all the time and the people who live here are under continuous threat. We heard accounts of killings and abductions which had taken place recently. We saw the marks of gun shot on the walls of a small school. The Pakistan Army was in evidence at various points.

We also visited two refugee camps whilst in Muzafarabad. The leaders of the camps told us of their experiences which were clearly horrific and of their hopes of being allowed to go back to the Indian occupied part of Kashmir. The Government was clearly doing its best to help the refugees and had provided support for them to build decent housing conditions, schools and clinics. They had organised their communities well. Their living conditions were no worse and often better than those of the general population.

However, you could not get away from the fact that they had lost everything - their homes and possessions and members of the families. They lived in limbo not knowing how long they would be there, whether they would ever return, whether they would ever see members of their families again.

The same applied to people who had fled many years ago. In Lahore we met members of the Kashmir Action Committee. These were middle aged people who had forged new lives for themselves in the city and were often quite prosperous. The story of one, a judge, was typical. He had been forced to leave Kashmir in 1950 with his father, leaving his mother and the rest of the family behind. He had never seen them since.

Without taking sides in the conflict three things were very clear to us. First that there were clear tragedies of human rights taking place - we heard first hand accounts of these and saw for ourselves injuries inflicted. Second, that the conflict impacts on everyone in Azad Kashmir and the Punjab to a greater or lesser degree. Thirdly, there is a widespread feeling of being let down by the West and Britain in particular. People pointed to the fact that the West was intervening in Kosovo; why was it not doing the same in an equally serious and longer running conflict? We found it impossible to give a convincing response in the light of the present situation.

 

 


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