OPINION

Out of Occupied Kashmir

Columnist HUMERA NIAZI looks at the present situation in the Indian-occupied territory.

It was just another election ‘under the gun’ in the area, which is known as occupied Kashmir. The completion of the phased out state polls, has once again not changed the ground realities over there. It was a well predicted venture, which presented boycott, a low turn out reportedly and there being an element of violence. It becomes quite thought provoking, as to comprehend, what were the objectives. The Indian government was trying to achieve while conducting such an electoral exercise, with emphasis to convey that it would be a free and fair process were they (the Indian government) trying to portray to the international community and the US in particular, that the people in the occupied territory are well-satisfied with the presence of seven hundred thousand troops and there is no freedom struggle going on there because they want to make believe that the people have shown willingness to partake in an election process. But, maintaining such a posture by India would only run into negation and wear out with time, because the situation on the ground is quite bad and there being no improvement ever since a thirteen year old uprising began in way of a freedom movement taking strength from its legal right documented in the UN resolutions for implementing a plebiscite which has been denied. Ironically though, the very beginning of the self-determination movement by the Kashmiri people was marked by a boycott of the elections, in Kashmir eversince the Indian government has repeatedly conducted fraud elections being acknowledged by international media so then it becomes difficult to perceive how could the present election exercise in Kashmir prove otherwise, with claims of being free and fair.
What is significant is that the A.P.H.C. (an umbrella organisation) which is accepted representation, had taken a decision to boycott elections. This had a marked effect on the credibility of the whole election in Kashmir, as this being the first major defect in conducting an electoral process in this area. In adopting boycott and making it workable, the A.P.H.C. has sent a message to the international community that an election cannot take place. It also made it clear that:

(i) The rejectionist stance adopted by them, is that they want plebiscite, whereas India is only concentrating on governance.
(ii) With the A.P.H.C. employing the option of boycott and a questionable and low turn out, it has highlighted and proved the fact as stated in the U.N.S.C. resolution 122: that elections cannot be a substitute for a UN plebiscite.
After the boycott there is the low turn out factor from the very beginning. When the international community saw interest in the elections in Kashmir, India responded, and did not like the polling to be under international vigil. And in Colin Powell’s recent India visit there had been expression that the elections in Kashmir should be free and fair. This was not well taken by the Indians adopting a hard-line on it.
The voter turn out claims by the Indian government are not proving acceptable, as there is no determining factor. And the other view is that the Indian government is not correct in claiming a tall order of 40% voter turn out. A.P.H.C representative has stated that a zero has been added to the four by the Indians i.e. making it 4% in reality. Kashmir media service, from the very on set of these polls reported that, at 1400 hours there were only 10 percent voting in Karnah, five percent in Langate, one percent on Sopore and Barmulla, eight percent in Rafiabad, 12 percent each in Sonawrai and Uri, four percent in Sangrama, thus putting forth the question that how did it touch 50 percent in only two hours. Further more it was official media which announced 12 percent in Rajouri, 20 percent in Nowshera, 20 percent in Buddhal, 15 percent in Darhal, 5 percent votes in Thanamandi, no vote at Drusan, 6 percent in Manjakote and only one percent each at Mendhar and Surankote. These are not very impressive (voting) figures. How would the international community rate these voter turn out contradictions, if they have nothing substantive to support this Indian claim?
It would be wrong to accept Indian fabrication on an important issue like this. This pattern of a low turn out has been obvious right till the fourth phase on 8th October, in Doda and Kupwara, where there was a ‘shutters-down’ scenario, to a boycott appeal. These observations should not be lost, to international opinion.
There has been poll related violence reportedly much before the election, that is only with the very announcement of election dates on August 2, some seven hundred people have died. There have been coercive measures taking place by the troops deployed by India. In addition to 237 companies of the central reserve police force, 160 more companies had been deployed (ahead of the second polling phase) in Occupied Kashmir in order to victimise the people. It is a sad spectacle and ironic that India is claiming success in holding elections on the premise that there has been a lesser polls violence, which can hardly be a reason for avoiding the real situation in Kashmir which is importantly a solution and dialogue. Further what is logical is the questioning as to how can free and fair polling take place in the presence of seven hundered thousand guns of the Indian troops?
At a time when there is a lot of international focus on the Kashmir election and the mention of dialogue. It becomes very important for the boycott appeal by the A.P.H.C to be successful which it has proven to strengthen its cause internationally, whereas India has not been able to achieve a high voter turn out, also failing to include A.P.H.C in the process: this would now tend to bring India under international pressure to open dialogue with Pakistan to find a solution on the Kashmir issue what strategy would India adopt after this the question.
It appeared earlier the Indian government had a dual approach, that is when it set up a Kashmir Committee while at the same time it announced elections. The A.P.H.C well reacted to these Indian tactics by accepting talks, but not falling into the Indian trap for participation in a fake electoral process, which would only give credibility to the Indian government. The A.P.H.C’s decision of election boycott comes at a time when the Kashmir freedom movement is at a crucial stage. And the next important step, after this, for the A.P.H.C is to reject Indians’ compromise strategy, which plays the ‘autonomy’ card, something which had failed earlier. There is an international concern for a solution of the Kashmir conflict, by employing dialogue, because both Pakistan and India massed a million troops on the common border and LoC which made a dangerous situation.
The paramount factor which should effect a future change in to the crisis in Occupied Kashmir, is the tremendous defeat of the National Conference, with stalwarts such as Omar Abdullah, Dr Mushtaq Kamal Abdul Ahad Wakeel and Sakina It being thwarted having lost their seats. Omar Abdullah’s defeat from his home constituency is seen as the closing of a long chapter in occupied Kashmir’s political history. Then after this it is the boycott by the A.P.H.C with a low voter turn out which rubber stamps a change in the near future, by way of self-determination.
Then last but very important is that India has to take international concern more seriously. There was at Almaty the reaffirmation of the right for self-determination, at an international level, with a concern for the danger of a wider Indo-Pak conflict (the border situation). The US expressed that it would favour ‘dialogue’ on Kashmir between Pakistan and India. And Colin Powell had put forth ‘the first step’ thesis, on his India visit, which is significant. The US stance is that elections would be a first positive step, further distinguishing between an electoral process and a solution on Kashmir. But the US should also logically consider the ground realities: as it questions a first step to what: if there are occupation troops in Kashmir and the situation worsens? Colin Powell said they would be ‘engaged’, so this reflects positivity does this mean getting closer to dialogue and the solution?
It is time, India opts for an ‘out’ of Occupied Kashmir and gives dialogue a chance.

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