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|November 6, 2002|
The Rediff Special/Aziz Haniffa
A leading Washington think tank has stated that since "the major separatist groups did not participate," the elections in Jammu and Kashmir "did not really resolve the question of who speaks for the Kashmiris".
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies, in a post-mortem of the Kashmir elections, said, "The Hurriyat sees itself as the representative of the Kashmiris and has sought to represent them in dialogues with the Centre and Pakistan. It is also engaged in track-two efforts, such as the one with the Delhi-based Kashmir Committee headed by former minister Ram Jethmalani."
The CSIS predicted that the Hurriyat would press the new state government to include it in any future dialogue.
The CSIS report acknowledged that the state government, for its part, "wants to start direct talks with the central government on the state's future governance" and warned that if the central government impedes the ability of the state government to function, it would put the Hurriyat in the foreground again.
The report stated that the National Conference remains the largest party in the assembly and the role it chooses to play in the opposition will be critical.
The report said the initial moves by the Indian government in not blocking the state government's first moves, such as announcing the disbanding of Special Operations Group in the Valley, were positive, and added: "Continued central government help and funding will be critical."
The report pointed out that the common minimum programme of the People's Democratic Party-Congress coalition called for "the release of political prisoners, strengthening of protections for human rights, investigation of custodial killings, and the return of Kashmiri Hindus forced out of their homes in the state, along with progress on a host of economic, development, and social issues."
Stating that central government assistance for all these issues are imperative, the CSIS said, "The trickiest issue, however, is shaping the future governance of the state --- the relationship of Kashmir to Delhi and, behind it, the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir."
The report further stated, "Movement on talks in the next six months is the key before the BJP becomes preoccupied with forthcoming state elections and the prospect of national elections in 2004. The concept underpinning the talks should be changing political relationships, not the map."
The think tank suggested three levels of dialogue to kick-start a political process.
The first "is between the various constituencies and political parties in Kashmir. The internal structure of this coalition should produce a long-needed dialogue among the different sub-regions within Kashmir."
It said Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's reaching out to the Hurriyat needs to continue.
The second level, according to the CSIS, has to be between the state government and the central government, and while the state government would necessarily carry out this discussion at the official level, "there will be a continuing need for an unofficial channel, as a forum for candid and wide-ranging discussion."
The third level, it said, "involves Pakistan, and the Kashmiris would like to be direct participants in this, though it remains unclear who in Kashmir would take the reins".
The CSIS added that the Hurriyat would like to be the bridge-builder and an active participant, but said the national government would more than likely knock this down and "insist on maintaining full control of any discussions with Pakistan".
The report said Pakistan and the externally based militant groups "have been alienated by the Kashmir elections" and it is given that "neither will welcome progress in relations between the state and the Government of India, and both will be tempted to play the spoiler's role".
"The political situation in Kashmir is very fragile, the peace constituency is passive and these are factors that militant groups can easily exploit," it said.
Meanwhile, a report on Pakistan, titled 'Two Elections: New Hopes and Old Frustrations', said the hung parliament and the unexpectedly strong showing of the religious parties raise questions about how the present regime will deal with a political force that will be hostile to the government's ties with the United States and will push a hard line toward India.
Whatever government is ultimately formed, the CSIS report warned that it would be one that would "involve co-operation between parties that do not see eye-to-eye, and would yield a fragile government and fractious National Assembly".
The report said that since the 'King's Party' has no clear leader, "Musharraf is also looking for a prime minister who will fit in with his own desire to maintain control".
It declared, "The likelihood of some kind of showdown within the new government or between the elected leaders and Musharraf within the next two years is high."
The report predicted, "...whether or not the MMA joins the government, and even if it tones down its stridently anti-American campaign rhetoric, its members will do their best to soften government restraints on the country's Islamic militants and encourage continuing Pakistani support for the Kashmir insurgency.
"They will push Musharraf to restrict the role of US law enforcement agencies in hunting down the Taliban and Al Qaeda remnants, especially in areas where the MMA is in the provincial government, and if the US goes to war in Iraq, that will be a potent source of new opposition to US policy extending well beyond the MMA."
The report said the main message for the United States from the ballot box both in Kashmir and in Pakistan "is that South Asia will remain volatile, but that the stakes for US interests are higher than ever".
The CSIS said, "In Kashmir, the United States will want to encourage India and Pakistan to create conditions in which dialogue can move forward.
"This will require creativity and restraint from both. The twin dangers that threaten this much-needed quiet US role are the looming war in Iraq, which will absorb Washington's entire attention, and the wild card represented by the MMA's [Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal --- an alliance of six religious parties] strong showing in Pakistan."
The report, like the consensus among opinion makers and observers and the majority of analysts, attributed the National Conference's loss of its majority in Jammu & Kashmir to anti-incumbency sentiments and frustration over local issues, coupled with the party's well-known propensity "for corruption and high-handedness".
It said the Congress's showing, where it won heavily in the Hindu-majority Jammu area, was clearly "a reaction against the BJP's communally divisive politics" and noted that this is "the first time in six years that the Kashmir government has had a coalition partner connected with the opposition to the central government".
But this, the CSIS warned, "may complicate its dealings with Delhi."
Image: Rahil Shaikh
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