Friday, 30 May 2008

Kashmir after the elections

Kashmir after the elections
Shabir Choudhry

Whether we like them or not elections have ended, both in Pakistan and in Kashmir. On outcome and in the manner how both elections were conducted, different people have different opinions. In view of some both were scientifically rigged to achieve the desired outcome.

Of course there are those who believe that both elections were fair and impartial. And there are those who regard elections in Pakistan as free and impartial, and elections in Kashmir as ‘sham elections’. Similarly there are those who will regard elections in Kashmir as free and impartial and elections in Pakistan as ‘fraud’ and ‘manipulated’.

So it is a matter of opinion and one’s own perspective which depends on how these elections are seen and analysed. Both places don’t have proud history of fair and free elections. There are many who say that Kashmir has never seen fair and free elections, and it was precisely because of this that India was pressurised to hold ‘free and fair’ elections.

India managed to persuade the major powers or at least assured them, that irrespective of what has happened in the past, elections this time would be completely ‘fair and impartial’. This claim or assurance had to go through a rigorous test before India could come out with some kind of satisfaction or pride.

In my interaction with Western diplomats I was again and again assured that India this time is very serious and sincere in holding fair and free elections; of course I expressed serious doubts on India’s claims and assurances because of what had happened in the name of elections in the past, and what India intended to do with these elections. But on each occasion we ended the conversation with disagreement on this point.

Elections in Kashmir were held in phases and each phase had its own outcome and level of participation. Your view of elections in Kashmir is largely influenced by who you see and whose report you read. Some reports suggest the elections were by and large ‘free and fair’, other reports suggest that they were ‘sham’ and people have once again rejected India. But nearly all agree that whatever the level of participation, elections are not a solution to the complicated problem of Kashmir.

During and after the elections I had interaction with some Western diplomats who say that under the conditions they were ‘reasonably fair’. In their view in different parts of the State there were different problems and different level of participation. In their view in Ladakh and parts of Jammu there was good turn out, and even in some parts of the Valley participation level was good.

I put forward different point of view and quoted some reports which clearly explained that participation level was very low, and in some cases people didn’t bother coming out at all. This experienced diplomat looked at me with a smile and what he said is summarised as below:

‘Shabir you people need to come out of this now…its no good fooling yourself for ever, and apart from Pakistani papers, do read other papers. We have independent reports which have shown satisfactory level of participation, and that by and large elections were fair and free. And where people didn’t come out to vote it is difficult to say whether it was due to choice or fear of reprisals. In any case it is a right of people not to vote for anyone. Our demand from India was to hold fair and free elections and that promised has been honoured under very difficult and challenging situation.’

I pointed out that reports from so called observers could not reveal the whole truth because they could only see so much and must have been taken to places where they had ‘arrangements for fair and free elections’. How could they be fair when there is a large Indian army and they could force people to vote for certain candidates; and in any case outcome of the elections could very easily be manipulated.

He shook his head and said, it is easy to sit in London and be critical of every thing. We accept elections in the past could have been rigged, but this time we were assured that they would be fair and impartial. People of Kashmir had an opportunity to go out and use their democratic right. It is unfortunate that the separatist leaders, for whatever reason, decided to boycott the elections. They have right to do that but in my opinion they have not helped the Kashmiri cause.

I asked him if his government, and other Western governments would accept the outcome of these elections. He said I am not in a position to speak for other governments but we will accept the new government in Kashmir as a ‘legitimate government’ and interact with it…. we will also interact with separatist leaders, but in my opinion ‘they have, to some extent, lost their standing.’

He further said that India was very much under pressure to hold free and fair elections as the world attention was focussed on this. Whoever decided to increase the level of violence before and during the elections has helped India to get off the hook, as world attention was diverted from free and fairness to violence. Indian officials said, it is because of this ‘terrorism’ we have to keep our forces there; and it is because of this threat of ‘terrorists’ that in some areas people decided to stay in.

In a meeting with another diplomat when participation of electorate was under discussion, I told him that majority of people regard these elections as ‘sham’, and where they have voted it was against pro Indian leaders. They wanted to demonstrate that they didn’t want puppets like Farooq Abdullah who supported the Indian oppression in Kashmir for so many years.

He smiled and said, it is beauty of a democratic process that people decide who should rule them. I hope Farooq Abdullah is replaced by someone who could help to move in right direction in resolving the Kashmir dispute. He asked me if these elections are ‘sham’, then what about the elections in Azad Kashmir and the election of the present President of Azad Kashmir, was that held according to democratic traditions and principles of democracy?

Of course I had no satisfactory reply to this, so I changed the topic by asking him a question about elections in Pakistan, and what the new government would do to resolve the Kashmir dispute. This time his smile was saying Shabir you are on a slippery ground, if you criticise and show your dissatisfaction about elections in Kashmir, and call them ‘sham’, then you should maintained the same standards when analysing the elections on this side of LOC.

With regard to the elections in Pakistan, he thought the General had honoured his pledge of holding elections, but everything was not according to ‘rules’, but it’s a step in right direction. He didn’t foresee any dramatic solution to the Kashmir dispute, as the new government in Pakistan will spend most of its first year in sorting out with other organs of the government in order to determine who is responsible for what.

Similarly the new government in Kashmir will have its own problems and New Delhi doesn’t seem to be in hurry to start dialogue with Pakistan. However it is expected that some kind of talks, be them direct or indirect, could begin with separatist leaders. He was of the opinion that the Kashmiri leadership should get together to take initiative in their hands.

When I asked him does that mean there is no end to the plight of the Kashmiris in sight, and this oppression and killing of innocent people in different names would continue. He said, unfortunately this situation will continue for some time but the international community is determined to end terrorism.

What this means is that change of government in Kashmir and Pakistan is not going to change anything, and same old policies will continue and with that oppression, arrests, custodial deaths and killing of innocent people will continue. Some will be killed by the Indian bullets, some will be killed by cross border shelling, some by bomb blasts and some by cross firing. No matter who pulls the trigger, victim in most cases is a Kashmiri, and we have to find a way to stop this.
Writer is a Kashmiri leader based in London and author of many books and booklets on Kashmir.


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