The participants of a meeting demanded amendment to the interim constitution of AJK to hold local bodies elections in the state for devolution of power at a grassroots level.

They also demanded empowerment of youth and women in the local bodies to ensure devolution of power in the state. The demand came during a policy dialogue arranged in Rawalakot city of AJK by Centre for Peace, Development and Reforms (CPDR), a AJK-based training and research think tank.

Kashmir Council Member Sardar Saghir Chughtai lauded the efforts of CPDR and said that deliberate delays of successive governments in holding local bodies’ elections have led to a development deficit among different regions of the state. It can only be bridged through immediate transfer of power to a grassroots, he said.

Naib Ameer of Jamaat-e-Islami Ejaz Afzal spoke at length on deliberate delay and neglect of present government. He stated that the revival of local bodies could pose a serious challenge to those favour dynastic and hereditary politics in AJK. He vehemently supported the devolution of judicial, financial and administrative powers to a grassroots level. He stated that his party manifesto is very clear on youth women empowerment and if his party comes to power, youth and women empowerment would be top priority.

Speaking on the event, Sardar Azeem admitted that despite clear orders from court, his party could not ensure the local bodies in AJK which is clear manifestation of lack of political will and seriousness on the issue.

It is fact that due to absence of local governance system, the accountability of elected representatives was compromised and it gave rise to corruption in the state, he said.

Presenting PML-N stance, its leader Javaid Sharif stated that due to absence of local government and ban on student unions in AJK, the people could not build new leadership and this political space is seized by influential and rich people resulting in further aggravation of political system.

Javaid Nisar, ex-district president of Jammu Kashmir People Party (JKPP), said that his party holds intra-party elections on regular basis to give opportunity and space for young people and the leadership believes in empowering common citizens through democratic process.

“Whenever our party gets chance to form government, we will hold local bodies elections,” said Nisar.

Executive Director Ershad Mahmud briefed the participants that CPDR is holding series of dialogues across the AJK between young people and political leadership of AJK to provide a platform to young people to communicate their aspirations and issues to their leadership for better and improved governance. “We believe that empowered young people can be driver of change and they should be given chances to start a debate with their leadership,” he added.

Young scholar Dr Syed Waqas Ali gave a detailed presentation on the local government system in AJK and across the globe that how empowered local bodies played significant role in ensuring good governance and accountability in the world. He stated that due to limited spaces in AJK, young people are frustrated from their leadership and their deliberate alienation from political process is a serious challenge for the upcoming government.

The participants including young people, civil society members, lawyers and academicians demanded constitutional cover for the local bodies’ elections through an amendment in Act 1974.

One of the key issues emerged out from the discussion was the lack of spaces for young people to participate in active politics and their continuous disengagement from the existing system.

Besides, a demand was also made to give representation to women in local bodies. They also demanded that political parties should not only revive the local government but also ensure that it should have financial, administrative and judicial empowerment.