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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
Pakistan shuns Kashmir poll
An election rally with soldier in the foreground
Election rallies take place under tight security

Pakistan's state-run television service has reminded its viewers not to take the elections in Indian-administered Kashmir seriously.

A specially prepared bulletin says: "These are sham elections. Plebiscite and not fraudulent elections is the demand of the Kashmiri people."

This official view is shared by many Pakistanis and nearly everyone living in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Man listens at rally with armed guard in the foreground
A voter listens carefully at an election rally

The people may differ on the level of alleged rigging that may take place in these elections and about the voters' turnout, but they are convinced that it is not the answer to the long-standing dispute over the status of the state.

Protests

Since the start of the election process in Indian-administered Kashmir, there have been protest rallies by various pro-Kashmiri groups on almost a daily basis.

During the last such rally over the weekend in Muzzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the local leadership of the hard-line Jamaat-e-Islami party accused India of trying to sidetrack the real issue.

There were hard-hitting speeches to condemn the attitude of the United States and other big powers.

Even Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was accused of undermining the "freedom struggle" by preventing the militants from going across the line of control.

One of the speakers said: "These restrictions are not acceptable to us. We believe the only way to liberate Kashmir is through armed struggle."

Pro-Delhi


These restrictions are not acceptable to us. We believe the only way to liberate Kashmir is through the armed struggle

Militant speaker
Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin, who presently heads the United Jihad Council, a conglomerate of the Kashmiri militant groups, also holds the same view.

In an interview with the BBC, he said it was not until the "fraudulent" elections of 1987 that he decided to take up arms.

He said: "I was a candidate of the Muslim United Front from a Srinagar constituency in those elections as we believed electoral politics should be given a chance. But the way the elections were rigged in favour of the pro-Delhi candidates, it convinced us that we will never be allowed to win in the elections."

Mr Salahuddin said the only option left for them was to pick up arms and fight for their rights.

He is convinced that the present elections are no different from the previous such exercises, and are certainly not the answer to the real problem.
A Muslim woman at an election rally
Women play an active role at election rallies

Interestingly, it is not just the hard-line Islamic groups or militant leaders who hold such views.

These views are shared by nearly everyone on the streets of Muzzaffarabad, senior government officials, or even by the relatively liberal students at the local university.

Problems

When asked about the electoral politics in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, many of them admit there are fundamental problems of democracy and progress in their own areas.

But they say such issues pale into insignificance when compared with the serious developments taking place across the line.

Mohammed Haroon, a university student said: "There is no comparison between what happens over here and what is going on in Indian occupied Kashmir.

"We want elections and we take part in elections, whereas the Kashmiris living on the other side want the right of self-determination and they are being forced to take part in such fraudulent elections".

Musharraf criticised

Many people in Pakistan-administered Kashmir are also critical of President Musharraf's policy to try and rein-in the armed militants.

They say, instead of asking the United States to help resolve the Kashmir dispute in return for Pakistan's support in the war against terrorism, he is constantly caving in.


These are sham elections. Plebiscite and not fraudulent elections is the demand of the Kashmiri people

Pakistani television
Pakistan's foreign ministry officials say this is not true and point towards President Musharraf's statement before the UN General Assembly.

They say it is a clear manifestation of Islamabad's support for the struggle for the right of self-determination and its opposition to the Indian move to hold the present elections.

The officials also say, elections or no elections, Pakistan will continue to raise its voice in support of the struggle of the Kashmiri people for their right of self-determination.

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See also:

14 Sep 02 | South Asia
14 Sep 02 | South Asia
14 Sep 02 | South Asia
12 Sep 02 | South Asia
13 Sep 02 | South Asia
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