Polls not a guarantee of peace in J&K: Experts
29 September 2002
The Hindustan Times
New York: The success of elections in Jammu and Kashmir, even if the four-phase balloting records a high voter turnout, will not guarantee a key to lasting peace in the state, say South Asia experts in New York. New Delhi will have to address the needs of the people who voted as well as those who did not even while dealing with Pakistan''s propaganda and keeping up its counter-insurgency operations. ''For the elections to have true meaning, the Indian Government will have to recognise and develop a response to the fact that large parts of Jammu and Kashmir, including the Valley, did not vote,'' Mahnaz Ispahani, senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign relations, told IANS. According to Ispahani, many people stayed indoors not only for fear of being targeted by terrorist outfits that threatened to kill candidates and voters but also because they supported the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC). ''The Indian Government must recognise that the violence and anti-India sentiment in the region has local roots too - they are not simply the product of cross-border infiltrators. ''For long-term progress, these non-voters remain a constituency to be addressed for peace to return to the region,'' she said, pointing out that a high turnout, though important, was not a conclusive judgement on the free and fair nature of an electoral process. Ispahani emphasised on resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan, alongside the newly elected state leadership''s efforts to attend to vital local needs. But Ainslee Embree, an India expert who was special advisor to former US ambassador Frank Wisner, felt a reasonable turnout would give some indication of what people wanted. ''One can assume that people who don''t vote are in some sense represented by people that do.'' He also commented that a ''50 per cent vote was high enough to make the assembly representative, assuming the vote was a fair representation of opinions of the candidates and that they did not all belong to the same party''. On the other hand Sumit Ganguly, professor of Asian studies and government at the University of Texas in Austin, asserted that despite high turnout, elections alone could not bring long-term peace and stability to Kashmir. ''The Central government will have to also start serious negotiations about autonomy, find a way to deal with the Hurriyat, continue to exert pressure on Islamabad to rein in insurgents active on Indian soil, keep up counter-insurgency operations and maintain good relations with the US,'' Ganguly said. He admitted that this was an ''exceedingly tall order'' and could not be accomplished easily or without cost. ''The current regime in India has inherited a sorry mess in Kashmir,'' Ganguly felt. ''Addressing its problems requires tact, imagination, negotiations and careful political crafting.'' But he knew no amount of crystal ball gazing could really show what was in store for Kashmir once the election process was completed on October 8.