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INDIA – PAKISTAN: J&K - Deepening Democracy

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By Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management

Reaffirming their reviving faith in India's democratic set up, a total of 71.28 per cent of voters cast their vote during the first phase of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) State Assembly Elections on November 25, 2014. The Sonawari Assembly constituency in the Valley registered an 80.10 per cent voting. Voting for 15 out of 87 Assembly Seats took place on the day. The State is in the process of holding a five-phase Assembly Election, scheduled to conclude on December 12, 2014. Counting will commence on December 23, 2014, and results will be declared on the same day.

During the last State Assembly Elections in 2008, the same 15 seats had registered 65 per cent polling. The overall voting during the 2008 Assembly Elections, conducted in seven phases, stood at 61.49 per cent.

During the recently held General Elections (April-May 2014), these Assembly segments had registered 52.63 per cent voting. The overall turnout in the State during the General Elections of 2014 was 49.52 per cent.

Over 79 per cent of the electorate had also exercised their right to vote between April 13 and June 27, 2011, in the village Panchayat (local self-government institution) elections in J&K. In the 2002 State Assembly Polls, a relatively low 43.70 per cent of voters had cast their vote.

The rise in voting percentage reflects the rapidly improving security environment in the State. Not surprisingly, the November 25 elections were completely free of violence. Deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi observed, "Polling has gone off absolutely peacefully without any incident. It was 100 percent flawless polls and there was not a single incident which vitiates poll process."

This was despite the ritual pronouncement of threats and calls for boycott of elections, both by Pakistan-based Islamist terrorist organizations operating on Indian soil as well as the separatist formations within J&K. Significantly, on November 14, 2014, computer-typed Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) posters, written on plain paper in Urdu, were found in some villages of Pulwama and Shopian Districts, warning people against participation in election rallies and directing them to adhere to a complete boycott of polls. “The people who cast votes will have to face the consequences”, the posters read. Later that day, Mohammad Yusuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin, HM chief and chairman of the PoK based United Jehad Council, released a statement declaring, "People who will vote in the coming elections will be considered as traitors who sell the blood of martyrs." He urged the separatists, mainly the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC), to launch a door-to-door poll-boycott campaign.

The separatists in J&K had called for a boycott soon after the Election Commission announced the schedule on October 25, 2014. While calling for the boycott, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Chairman of the APHC-Geelani faction on October 26, claimed that "the poll announcement was unexpected and is no way any alternative to the plebiscite." Similarly, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Chairman of the APHC-Mirwaiz faction, stated, on the same day, "Polls no way could be the substitute of right to self determination. We ask people to reject these polls and stay away from this process.”

The electorates of Kashmir have once again rebuffed the calls of Pakistan's proxies in the State as well as threats by terrorists, during the first phase. However, four rounds of elections are still to be conducted, and there are strong indications that authorities in Islamabad are planning to vitiate the environment and hamper the election process.

On November 27, 2014, just two days after the first phase of the elections, terrorists who had reportedly been infiltrated across the border under covering fire by Pakistani Rangers, in violation of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA), carried out a suicide attack killing five civilians and three Security Force (SF) personnel in the Arnia sector of Jammu District. The attack ended on November 28, with SF personnel killing the last of the four militants involved in the attack. It was the first suicide attack of the year. The very next day, on November 29, militants lobbed a hand grenade at a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) picket in the abandoned Palladium cinema hall at Lal Chowk in Srinagar, injuring eight people, including a child and a CRPF officer.

The persistent trend of CFA violations, moreover, continues, as Islamabad attempts to infiltrate more terrorists across the border. Union Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh, on November 27, 2014, informed the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament) that there had been 363 ceasefire violations by Pakistan along the International Border and 61 on the Line of Control (Loc) in J&K, between August and November 17, 2014.

There are also reports that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed has stationed himself in an LeT training camp in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), with a plan to disturb the democratic process in J&K at any cost. CFA violations are intended to facilitate the entry of well-prepared LeT cadres, among others, into Indian territory over the coming days.

The success of the election, the widespread participation of voters and the engagement of various former separatist elements with national political formations will be an extraordinary goad for the surviving terrorist and separatist groups and for their sponsors in Pakistan's Army and its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate. Some extremist formations with direct connections to J&K and its people, such as HM, have been shocked into a measure of sobriety, and appear to be revaluating their stance. Yusuf Shah aka Syed Salahuddin, thus stated, "The militant leadership believes participation in the polls is betrayal with the sacrifices. But whatever decision is taken by the Hurriyat over the issue, we will abide by it." Other terrorist groups, with their roots squarely in Pakistan, and operating purely as proxies of the ISI, however, are likely to harden their stance further, seeking an escalation of violence in the apprehension that their waning influence in J&K signals the end of their movement.

[Source: SATP]


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