(An excerpt from article “PaK: Ethnicity, Democracy and Islam” taken from book titled “Of Occupation and Resistance, Writings from Kashmir”)
By Mazhar Iqbal
Democracy in PaK revolves around major ethnic groups. Though the important powers are always in the hands of federally appointed officials, the election drama is staged to showcase the ‘democratic face’ of the state. Tribal affiliations, ethnic popularity, linkages with elders of an ethnic group, local influences and interventions by the security set-up all play an important role. Who is backed by whom and which candidate is of what tribe? Which tribe has more influence on the powers-that-be?
Sometimes, tribal and family ties and clan politics trump all other considerations. Thus, in the absence of any democratic ideal, voters have to stick to clan loyalties and the whole election process becomes a futile exercise. A few political parties and groups have shown some respect for true democratic objectives. But their performance during the elections is always highly pathetic.
A closer look at the numbers of MLAs hailing from different tribes and clans during previous elections presents an interesting picture of the whole democratic process. Though there is no room for racial or ethnic priorities in true democracies, the figures of the legislative assembly of PaK highlight that certain ethnic groups always dominate in the elections and make their way to be part of the government. These are the Chaudhrys (Gujjars and Jats), the Sudhans and the Rajputs.
The Gujjars are said to be the largest ethnic group and they are scattered all over the state. The Jats are confined only to Mirpur and Kotli districts. The Sudhans or Sardars are mainly in Rawalakot and Sudhnoti districts. Rajputs are also scattered all over the state. Some other smaller ethnic groups like Mughals, Awans, Qureshis, have strong political affiliations but they could never challenge these dominant tribes.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, Pashtuns, Shins, Ladakhi, Balti, Puriki, Wakhi, Yashkun, Tibetan, Mongol, Tatar, Mon, Pashtun, Khowar, Dom, Gujjar, Rajput and Kashmiri are ethnic groups. Shina is the basic language of this region and other languages include Brushaski, Wakhi, Khowar and Balti.