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Saturday, 11 May, 2002, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
Analysis: Kashmir separatists at crossroads
Separatist leader Javid Ahmad Mir being arrested after a rally protesting the arrest of another leader
Separatist leaders are exploring new alternatives
test hello test
By Victoria Schofield
Kashmir analyst

Founded in 1993 as an umbrella organisation to give strength and solidarity to over 30 religious and political parties in Indian-administered Kashmir, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference has reached a political crossroads.

If there is one reason why they want to participate in polls, it is in order to get Farooq Abdullah out

Kashmiri journalist
In September this year elections are due to be held to the State's Legislative Assembly.

The last elections were held in 1996 and the APHC unanimously boycotted them.

As a result, Farooq Abdullah, leader of the National Conference Party, was elected as Chief Minister virtually unopposed.

Part of the reason for not participating in any elections is that Hurriyat members - although divided in whether their ultimate objective is independence or accession to Pakistan - are not willing to acknowledge the Indian Union.

Marginalisation fears

But this approach is beginning to have drawbacks.

Firstly, the international community is less sympathetic to a boycott because it believes the Hurriyat should avail itself of the opportunity to show its political strength.

Bus passengers being frisked by soldier
Daily humiliations anger many Kashmiris

This opinion is shared by the Indian Government.

"They say they represent the Kashmiri people," says an Indian diplomat, "but how can we tell when they have never participated in any elections?"

Secondly, not participating in the elections leaves the field open to their political opponents, most notably the National Conference Party, still led by veteran politician Farooq Abdullah.

"If there is one reason why they want to participate in polls," comments a Kashmiri journalist, "it is in order to get Farooq Abdullah out."

New challenges

Memories are still fresh, however, of the last election in 1987 in which, as part of the Muslim United Front, some politicians did participate.

Demonstrator stoning a police van in Sri Nagar
Some young Kashmiris reject the status quo

Mr Abdullah won a landslide victory but there were widespread allegations of rigging.

Although the federal government has promised "free and fair" elections with invited observers, there is still concern that the outcome could be manipulated.

"They believe that if they look like they are going to win significant seats, there will be foul play," says a Kashmiri political activist.

Supporters of the APHC are also apprehensive that the chief minister will bring in his son, Omar, who has resigned from the national government.

As a younger politician, with a clean track record, he is likely to increase the standing of the National Conference Party.

Internal divisions

If APHC members do participate, they may also have to contend with the reaction of the more extreme members who will not sanction participation in elections held under Delhi's auspices.

It is not an alternative election for the whole state, but is in order to show that the APHC has support from among the people

Ved Bhasin, Editor Kashmir Times
Although political parties no longer have their militant wings, reprisals by militants on those who appear to be softening their attitude towards the Indian Government are likely.

An alternative suggestion for those who want to demonstrate some political following is to field proxies.

As virtually unknown candidates, they will not, however, have anything of the appeal of their leaders.

Interim measures

Before any decisions are taken about participating in the elections, the APHC has endorsed the initiative of Yasin Malik, leader of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), to create an alternative election commission.

Kashmiri woman passes an Indian soldier
Tight security is a part of daily life

This commission would oversee the election of representatives from among APHC supporters.

Ved Bhasin, Editor-in-chief of the Kashmir Times, is on the election commission.

'It is not an alternative election for the whole state, but is in order to show that the APHC has support from among the people," he says.

The recent meeting of some leading APHC members in Dubai was yet another attempt to gain some clarity of vision between the objectives of Kashmiris in Indian- and Pakistani- administered Kashmir.

Shared anxieties

That it took place at all was surprising in view of the sensitivity felt by the governments of both India and Pakistan.

The two governments worry that politicians from both sides might attempt to reach an internal agreement which did not accord with their own respective national aspirations.

Initially, it was believed to be a meeting which had the backing of all Hurriyat Executive Council members.

Later, it emerged as a personal meeting between Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Abdul Ghani Lone and former Prime Minister of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Sardar Qayyum Khan.

Sardar Khan has recently been speaking out against militancy and has been attempting to perform the role of an "honest broker".

The difficulty remains that whereas Delhi is prepared to talk to the Kashmiris, it still does not want to concede any involvement in the issue by any representatives from Pakistan.

See also:

27 Mar 02 | South Asia
Kashmir strike shuts down state
26 Mar 02 | South Asia
Kashmir separatist remanded
20 Mar 02 | South Asia
Protection for Kashmir separatists
12 Feb 02 | South Asia
Kashmir separatists announce poll move
16 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: India firm over Kashmir
27 Sep 01 | South Asia
Security fears for Kashmir separatists
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