Kashmiri asks centre to return Kashmir Council’s powers to AJK govt

ISLAMABAD – Around 170 young leaders representing the diverse shade of socio-political divide of Azad Jammu Kashmir including refugees settled in different cities of Pakistan came together here on Tuesday to urge political parties to include social and economic empowerment in their manifestos as a key public commitment ahead of the upcoming general election in the state.

A policy dialogue – Social and Economic Empowerment of Young People of Azad Jammu Kashmir: Opportunities and Challenges – was organised by the Centre for Peace, Development and Reforms (CPDR), in collaboration with the British Council to provide youth with a platform to discuss their challenges with the political leadership ahead of the Legislative Assembly elections, due in June.

Key leaders of political parties and civil society representatives including former prime minister Sardar Attique Ahmad Khan, Minister for Finance, Planning and Development Chaudhary Latif Akbar, Legislative Assembly Deputy Speaker Shaheen Kousar Dar, Sardar Khalid Ibrahim, Shah Ghulam Qadir, Zulfiqar Abbasi, British Council Deputy Director Jim Booth, CPDR director Ershad Mahmud and Dr Waqas Ali, attended the dialogue.

Addressing the gathering, Latif Akbar said that the economic development of the state was a key issue and the government really needs to work for the empowerment of the state government. The current structure of the Kashmir Council also needs amendments and its excessive administrative and financial powers were impediments in the economic development, he said.

“During our time (in government) we built new institutions for economic growth and development for young people and women, and we believe that we need to create all parties economic consensus for the socio-economic development,” said Sardar Attique, who heads the Muslim Conference party. He reiterated that the state assembly should be made more autonomous and financial and administrative powers of the Kashmir Council should be decentralised and handed back to the state government.

“We need to ensure that jobs and opportunities should be given on merit in order to empower young people economically,” said Khalid Ibrahim. The deputy speaker underlined the need for effective women participation in the social and economic life, saying women were not provided with their due share in the jobs; politics and economic opportunities.

Shah Ghulam Qadir stated that if the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) comes into power they would ensure to enhance youth participation in the political system and women empowerment would be the key for their government. Highlighting the economic potential, leading Kashmiri entrepreneur Zulfiqar Abbasi identified the key areas of hydropower, tourism, mines & minerals, information technology and human development of around two million youth for domestic consumption and export.

He emphasised that these resources can only be developed with political will, induction of true professionals and necessary constitutional reforms to bring trade and economic issues under the ambit of the state’s assembly and elected government of the state. He emphasised that economic development has been the least priority of the successive governments and the process needs to be expedited on war footings to address the growing unemployment and revenue scarcity from within the state.

Ershad Mahmud said that CPDR held three youth dialogues and four days long training wherein over 900 young people have been engaged and trained so far. In the context of the election, the debate on socio-economic issues demands deeper attention from all key stakeholders. Leaders from all major political parties and some of the civil servants were invited to share their perspectives on the subject.

“An opportunity to young people was provided to put forward direct policy inputs to political parties so that it might reflect on their election campaigns and subsequent political strategies,” he said.

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