Thursday, 29 May 2008

Elections in Kashmir

Elections in Kashmir
Dr Shabir Choudhry

The State of Jammu and Kashmir is indeed a very unfortunate region. Not only citizens of this beautiful country are forcibly divided but they are also oppressed and deprived of basic human rights.

Different regions of the State are subject to different problems. In some parts of the State people are struggling and crying out for a right of vote that they can elect their representatives who could legislate and work for welfare of the people; and in the other part of the State people are not only advised and encouraged, but also threatened that they must not use their right to vote and keep away from the polling stations.

Some of those who ignored this threat and participated in the electoral process have paid very heavy price, as many have either lost their lives or were seriously injured in bomb blasts and shoot outs.

Since in Gilgit and Baltistan people don’t have the luxury of legislative assembly, and so they don’t have a right to vote for such elections; they suffer and at times lose their lives because they don’t have a right to participate in elections, but on the other side of the divide people have lost their lives because they have a right to vote and some of them wanted to use it as well.

By throwing bombs at the polling booths and in public meetings what message we are trying to give to the world out side, especially to countries of the Western Europe and America who claim to promote democracy. These countries especially, America and Britain encouraged Kashmiris to take part in a political process, but some Kashmiri leaders defied this plea and decided to boycott it; irony of the matter is that it is these countries we turn to for help and support, and request them to help us to get our right of self determination.

Some leaders have claimed that by this boycott they have demonstrated that Kashmir is disputed. This is a total nonsense. Kashmir was disputed before the elections and will remain disputed after the elections, and this fact was established many decades ago and supported by the UN resolution in 1957.

This resolution is very clear that no election could substitute a referendum, and that elections are held to elect a local administration to resolve problems of the people; and if that is the established legal position then what is the point these leaders are trying to prove.

Are they trying to prove that they are against the political process or they fear that they will lose elections if they were to contest them? One diplomat pointed out to me some time ago that if these leaders are so confident of their public support, why can’t they do what Shin Fein leaders did. Despite being strongly against the British rule they demonstrated their public support by winning their seats and then refused to take up their seats in the Parliament.

These Kashmiri leaders claim that by taking part in the elections, they might legitimise the Indian position in Kashmir. I wonder what value this point has in the presence of the UN resolution of 1957, which is categorical that elections do not legitimise anything as they do not substitute referendum; but if we accept this logic then the people of Azad Kashmir must formulate a strategy with regard to elections in Azad Kashmir.

The fact that there have been many elections in Azad Kashmir, and all of them have been manipulated to get the results which were favourable to Islamabad, does it mean that legal position of these areas has changed; and they are no longer considered as disputed or even part of the Kashmir dispute.

If by taking part in elections we are changing the legal situation and legitimising the rule of Pakistan, then people of Azad Kashmir will have to think seriously what position to take in the next elections in Azad Kashmir. And if disruption and throwing bombs in public meetings is one way of showing your dissent that is not too difficult for some to manage, but I am sure that it will prove counter productive.

In many parts of Pakistan whether elections are held or not, bombs do go off in markets and even in mosques where people go for prayers, and it won’t be a good idea to lead or encourage people to take part in this kind of ‘dissent’. I am sure there will be many interested parties to encourage and support this kind of ‘dissent’ in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan, but that surely won’t be in the interest of Pakistan and the people of these areas.

We may have disliking for India for many reasons, but they deserve credit for holding fair elections, and more importantly accepting verdict of the people. The ruling party led by Vajapayee Sahib appeared to be popular and many predictions were made that they will win the elections. The ruling government made no attempt to manipulate the outcome of the elections, and once the result was known Vajapayee Sahib wasted no time and resigned.

In Pakistan and Azad Kashmir one cannot expect an election of this kind where a ruling party could lose and more importantly accept the outcome like this; and we hear no cries of corruption, manipulation and horse trading and writs in courts. In Pakistan and Azad Kashmir we have a long tradition of corruption, manipulation and not accepting results of elections.

In Azad Kashmir only those people are ‘elected’ who would happily dance on the tune played by Islamabad, but we have another tradition of calling ‘puppet Chief Minister’ of Jammu and Kashmir who ever is the leader of the House in Kashmir Assembly. And one who has less powers and less credibility and legitimacy in Azad Kashmir, we happily call him ‘Prime Minister’ of Azad Kashmir.

In India democratic traditions are strong, and Indian democracy is getting stronger with time, but situation in Kashmir paints a different and undesirable picture for India. Some would say that situation in Kashmir is a black mark on the face of Indian democracy, and sooner it is resolved better it is for the people of the whole region.

By use of force we cannot resolve the Kashmir dispute or any dispute for that matter. We have to resolve all issues including the Kashmir dispute through a process of dialogue; and Kashmiri leadership which believes in peace and harmony must be taken on board. There could be no peace without participation of Kashmiri leaders, but question is can we hold the process of dialogue ‘hostage’ to the wishes of some who have personal interest in maintaining the status quo?

There are powerful groups who want to continue with their ‘Jihad’, whatever that means in the view of the Islamic concept of Jihad which does not allow killing of innocent people and unnecessary violence. Perhaps people will have to accept this position that there will always be some who will always oppose liberal and democratic values, and always oppose peaceful resolution of the dispute; and by keeping that in mind we should continue our march towards peace and harmony.

Writer is a Chairman of Diplomatic Committee of JKLF and author of many books and booklets. Also he is a Spokesman of International Kashmir Alliance. Email:

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