In Kargil, Pakistani shelling becomes an election issue
10 September 2002
The Hindustan Times
Jammu: Intense Pakistani shelling of border villages in Jammu and Kashmir is becoming an issue in the campaigning for elections in this remote region that witnessed a near war three years ago. Amidst the rattle of shells striking barren mountains close to this town located well within the striking range of powerful Pakistani artillery guns, candidates are exhorting voters ''to come and vote'' so that Islamabad cannot force them into giving up their democratic rights. In previous assembly elections, campaigning in Kargil, which is ringed by towering mountains with Pakistani gun positions atop them, focused on development - or the absence of it. Till a few weeks ago, candidates were promising relief and rehabilitation for people displaced by the Kargil conflict of 1999, when Indian troops waged a short campaign to evict Pakistan-backed intruders who had occupied strategic heights along the Line of Control (LoC). As candidates leave aside campaign issues like education and corruption, the intense Pakistan shelling that began over the weekend finds a mention in their speeches. ''Pakistan is repeating what it did in the 1996 elections. It opened fire on villages close to the LOC to scare voters on polling day,'' said Minister of State for Works Qamar Ali Akhoon. ''Pakistan is back to its old game.'' Akhoon is pitted in a tough contest in Kargil against his independent rival, Haji Nissar Ali. Though the two men might not agree on other issues, Ali readily endorses his opponent''s view that Pakistan is trying to create problems ahead of the polls that begin on September 16. Both candidates feel their prospects will be harmed if the Pakistan shelling displaces people or causes disruption on polling day. They say they are exhorting voters, who number nearly 87,000 in Kargil district, to defy the shelling and vote. The people of Kargil have often been exposed to the danger of Pakistani shelling but say they have not witnessed such intense artillery firing since July last year. The shelling last year subsided after a week. But this time they fear Pakistan might go on shelling the area so that voters are displaced and cannot exercise their franchise. ''It is easier said than done,'' said Mohammed Khan, a Kargil resident, referring to the calls from politicians to vote despite the Pakistani shelling. ''If the shelling intensifies and polling stations are not relocated, we may have to hide in bunkers rather than queue at the polling stations''.