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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 17:22 GMT
Kashmir separatists announce poll move
Kashmiri women protest
Turning protesters into voters remains a challenge
By the BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar

The main separatist alliance in Indian-administered Kashmir, the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) has set up a six-member election commission.

It says the commission will supervise the proposed election of representatives to talk with India and Pakistan about the Kashmir dispute.

Although the exact implications of the move are not clear, it is likely to be opposed by the Indian Government.

Separatist groups have in the past refused to take part in elections in Kashmir.

Representation

The commission will have two co-chairpersons, one each from India and Pakistan.

APHC leader AG Bhat
Abdul Ghani Bhat: Only choosing delegates for talks
They are retired Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, and a noted human rights activist from India, Tapan Bose.

Three of four other members have been drawn from Indian-administered Kashmir.

They include medical practitioner Zafar Mehdi, senior journalist Ved Bhasin, and a scholar from Harvard University, Sidiq Wahid.

A retired Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court, Justice Raja Khurshid, represents Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Uncertainties

But the area directly administered by Pakistan - the Northern Areas - has been left un-represented.

Elections for representatives are proposed for all parts of Kashmir, administered by India and Pakistan.

APHC Chairman Abdul Gani Bhat announced names of the election commissioners - but stressed that the proposed election is only to select delegates for holding talks with India and Pakistan on the Kashmir question.

Soldier looking across LoC
Holding polls across the LoC will be difficult
He said these elections will not have anything to do with the formation of a government.

Mr Bhat also said that the commission's members had been nominated with their prior consent.

In Kashmir, ordinary citizens are watching the APHC's move with mixed feelings.

Ambiguous objectives

Some say the APHC is trying to outmanoeuvre India, but others suspect that the alliance is preparing the ground for its eventual participation in state assembly polls.

A section of the APHC leadership is known to be of the view that the APHC abandon its secessionist agenda and settle for a solution within the Indian constitution.

The implications of the APHC's initiative are not clear.

Mr Bhat says the APHC has taken this step to silence those who question its credentials as a representative forum of the Kashmiri people.

He told the BBC that the APHC will also invite former US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and other such leaders to observe the proposed poll process.

But analysts say the Indian Government is likely to oppose the APHC's move.

They say the Indian government could hardly accept what amounts to a parallel election commission.

And a commission with foreigners, especially Pakistanis, among its members will be all the more embarrassing.

See also:

09 Feb 02 | South Asia
Two dead in Kashmir mosque siege
07 Feb 02 | South Asia
Vajpayee hits back at Pakistan
05 Feb 02 | South Asia
Musharraf blames India for tension
10 Dec 01 | South Asia
Kashmir separatists ponder talks
29 Oct 01 | South Asia
UN commander speaks out on Kashmir
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