India trying to legitimize its rule in Kashmir by ‘democratic’ poll

Displaying supreme arrogance, India’s chief election commissioner on August 2 dismissed calls for international observers to monitor forthcoming elections in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. Describing them as the “white man’s” prescriptions, chief election commissioner J M Lyngdoh said: “We believe observing means white man coming and observing what the native is doing. If somebody wants to come, they can come in their individual capacity and [sic] they will not represent these commissions.” He insisted: “They are not going to teach us a lesson” in democracy, but was forced to admit that the proposed polls, to be held from September 16 to October 8, were not going to be held under “normal conditions” and that voters would need “personal courage” to exercise their right to vote.

The polls have been denounced by all Kashmiri groups as a farce meant to hoodwink the world into believing that normality is returning to the troubled state, which has been in the throes of a popular uprising since December 1989. Abdul Ghani Bhat, chairman of the All-Parties Hurriyet Conference (APHC), a 23-member umbrella organization of Kashmiri groups, said in a newspaper interview on August 1: “Our stand on the polls is clear. We will not contest [the] polls for forming a government.” He went on to say: “We are ready to contest polls meant for choosing the representatives who would represent the Kashmiris in talks with India and Pakistan”, to determine the future of the disputed state. Bhat demanded that such polls be held under the supervision of the United Nations.

Despite Pakistan’s objections, India has gathered important diplomatic support for its ludicrous stand, especially from the US. During his visits to Delhi (July 27) and Islamabad (July 28), US secretary of state Colin Powell endorsed the idea of polls in Kashmir, saying that they would help restore peace in the region. He did not say how this would happen.

Asked to comment, Shaikh Tajammal ul-Islam, director of the Institute of Kashmir Affairs, told Crescent International: “The polls are unacceptable because they are being held under the Indian constitution, supervised by the Indian election commission and conducted under the bayonets of the Indian army. If the Indian constitution was acceptable to the people of Kashmir, then what was the point of giving 80,000 lives since December 1989?” As a sop to Kashmiri sentiment, Powell called upon Delhi to release all Kashmiri political prisoners, especially Syed Ali Shah Gailani, who was arrested at his home on June 9 under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).

The struggle of the Kashmiri people has been turned, by careful Indian propaganda, into an issue of “cross-border terrorism”, confused with the universally denounced phenomenon of international terrorism. So successful has India been in this endeavour that the US and several European states have accepted this interpretation.

On August 1 Pakistan angrily dismissed calls by the Association of South East Asian Nations [Asean] Regional Forum (ARF) meeting in Brunei, and attended by members of the European Union, to “take urgent further steps to implement” its fight against terrorism. “It would have been appropriate for the ARF to call upon India to end its repression in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir,” the Pakistan Foreign Office said in a statement on August 1. It also criticised the ARF for failing to tell India to “find a just settlement of the Kashmir dispute through negotiations with Pakistan.”

Mischievously referring to the movement of freedom-fighters across the Line of Control in Kashmir as “cross-border terrorism,” India has put Pakistan on the defensive; even the US, for geopolitical reasons, has endorsed this call. Under pressure, Pakistan has been forced to fight India’s war by preventing the movement of Kashmiri mujahideen (a task that India’s 700,000-strong army of occupation singularly failed to accomplish in 13 years), but Delhi insists that Pakistan must do more.

L. K. Advani, India’s deputy prime minister, a “superhawk” and a hardcore Hindu fundamentalist, admitted on July 31 that “cross-border” infiltration had declined, but insisted Pakistan must still “do more”. Even Powell said similar things during his visit to Delhi a few days earlier, despite clear evidence that no such movement was taking place any more. In fact the Pakistan army is working with such alacrity along the LoC that even shepherds are arrested and prevented from going across.

The Indo-US pressure is in reality meant to force Pakistan to abandon its decades-old stand of supporting the Kashmiris’ right of self-determination. The US is supporting India and would like to bury the issue by allowing Delhi to formalise its control of the state, with some measure of limited autonomy granted to the Kashmiris.

In a world intoxicated with military might, weakness has become a curse. This is the plight of Muslims from Kashmir to Palestine and Chechnya. Their cries of anguish are dismissed; their desperate struggle to regain some dignity by hitting back at their tormentors is branded terrorism. Military occupation is ignored when it is in fact a form of terrorism. In August 1990, when the Iraqi army invaded Kuwait, a former province of Iraq separated from it through British intrigue, it was immediately branded as a threat to international peace and security.