Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Issue of 25 seats for Jammu and Kashmir Assembly

Issue of 25 seats for Jammu and Kashmir Assembly
Dr Shabir Choudhry 03 June 2006

The Delhi Kashmir Conference organised by Institute for Conflict Management, and attended by thinking and peace loving people from all regions of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, had many interesting aspects to it.

The conference, according to some analysts, was a ‘big success’, as it correctly identified impediments to the peace, communal harmony and stability of the State; and unanimously agreed to advance pro people and pro peace agenda.

It also agreed to fight back forces of communalism and hatred, and expressed its determination to ensure that those who promoted culture of ‘terrorism’ and communalism are not ‘rewarded’ for their ‘misdeeds’.

Many aspects of the Kashmiri struggle came under discussion and among them was the issue of 12 seats reserved by the Pakistani Administered Kashmir for the migrants of Jammu and Kashmir. These seats are used by the Pakistani agencies to ‘reward’ those who are seen as the best people to look after the interest of Pakistan in that area.

The entire government of Pakistani Administered Kashmir, its political institutions, economy, education, syllabus and even thinking of people to some extent is controlled by Pakistani establishment through its effective control of all forms of media and information. But despite this effective control Pakistani government felt it necessary to assert more control through appointment of all senior officers there.

Dr Nazir Gilani, who is regarded as a leading expert on legal and constitutional matters, pointed out that Jammu and Kashmir Assembly has also reserved 25 seats for the areas under control of Pakistan; but no elections take place for these seats.

Adalat Ali who hails from Kotli, and is now settled in England showed great interest in this topic. Adalat Ali has done tremendous work on the issue of Kashmiri Diaspora and Kashmiri identity campaign in England.

He questioned rationale of not holding elections on these seats. His contention was that it clearly shows that the government of India does not believe in the finality of the ‘accession’. Accession controversial as it was, was for the whole of the state and not only for the areas under Indian control. By ignoring the welfare and plight of the citizens of state of Jammu and Kashmir forced to live on that side of the divide, and by not holding elections on these seats the government of India has practically demonstrated that its interest is only to hold- on to areas under its control.

This approach of ‘holding - on’ to these areas as long as possible indicates that even the government of India does not believe that the ‘accession was final’, and that it was for the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir which includes areas under Pakistan.

Adalat Ali said if government of India thinks that the ‘accession’ was for the whole state of Jammu and Kashmir then it should declare to hold elections on those seats. He said he believes in liberal and democratic values, and in order to hold and defend principle of right to vote and right to contest elections, he will stand as a candidate on one of these seats even if that means going to prison.

This was a remarkable change in a stance of a Kashmiri from Pakistani Administered Kashmir, and as expected it stunned many present in the hall. This point of holding elections on those 25 seats became a topic of discussion even after the session ended. It was pointed out that for obvious reasons the government of Pakistani will not allow holding of such elections and will strongly react against this move.

It was suggested that in order to prove a point or to uphold a principle, elections should be arranged if the government of India has the political will and stamina, which many thought was not there. A point was made that more than 1.5 million people originating from Jammu and Kashmir are settled in Europe, America and the Middle East, and these people could take part in these elections.

Issue of 25 seats became a talking point during lunch, at dinner and at night, and even after the conference. Some thought if we contest elections or even support the idea it is tantamount to accepting State’s accession to India; others thought this was not the case, as elections are not held to determine future of the State. It is a political right and elections are held on both sides of the LOC to elect/select governments that they can resolve every day issues faced by the people.

Apart from that nearly all Kashmiri leaders, including Syed Ali Gilani, in one way or the other, have taken part in the elections held in the Indian Administered Kashmir. Does it mean that they have accepted the accession of the State to India?

Also some Kashmiri nationalists take part in the elections in Pakistani Administered Kashmir; even Shaheed Maqbool Butt also contested elections for the Assembly of Pakistani Administered Kashmir, and that did not change his ideology or that of other Kashmiri nationalists. It did not give a seal of approval to the government of Pakistan that they have become Pakistanis now; or that Kashmir has become a part of Pakistan.

Towards the end of the second day another leader from Pakistani Administered Kashmir expressed his interest in contesting elections on these seats should elections take place to elect members for the Assembly. This increased interest surprised me as well, and I wondered if tables are being turned, and people are ready to show their anger and resentment against policies of Islamabad in this style.

In my view all this is a theoretical discussion only, because unlike Pakistan who has a pro active policy on Kashmir; Indian policy is a ‘passive’ one. It has many inherent contradictions and lacks clear directions. Apart from that Government of India does not have what it takes to make a decision on such a delicate issue. Before any such decision they have to see how Islamabad is going to react, and how power brokers in Delhi and Srinagar are going to react.

Not long ago an Indian TV showed weather for the areas of Pakistani Administered Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan, and Pakistan immediately complained that it was ‘interference’, as if sending armed men across the LOC was not. Apart from that Pakistani TV has always showed weather for Jammu and Kashmir and that, in view of Pakistani authorities, is just and appropriate. CNN and BBC show weather for many countries, I don’t know if they have received complaints about ‘interference’ from these countries.

Government of India will have to consider reaction of Pakistan, reaction of Kashmiri militants and terrorists, and above all reaction of their favorite APHC and some leaders outside it. Also they will have to see what impact this move will have on the on - going peace process, which to many analysts is not going anywhere.

What this means is that Kashmiri friends who are enthusiastic about contesting elections on these 25 seats will have to wait a long time – perhaps they will be too old even to walk to the polling station when the decision is taken. However it is possible that their grandchildren might have a chance to contest elections on these seats.

Writer is Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs, Spokesman IKA and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at: drshabirchoudhry@hotmail.com

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