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Fifth Edition

A Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

Sept 2002



Ajai Sahni


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J & K: Terror, Democracy and the International Pretence

Ajai Sahni

It is truly amazing how terrorists and their sponsors set the agenda of international discourse – perhaps nowhere more so than is the case with the discourse on democracy. This is apparent on the current international positions on the forthcoming elections in Jammu & Kashmir, scheduled by India’s Election Commission (EC) for October 2002.

Even before the EC’s announcement of the poll dates, a constant refrain emanating from Pakistan has demanded ‘international observers’ to oversee this election, and Pakistan’s dictator, President Pervez Musharraf – who seized power through a coup d’etat against a democratically elected government, and who is also the architect of one of the greatest of electoral scams in the shape of a ‘referendum’ to legitimise is continuance in power – assures the world that ‘the United Nations would not recognise the outcome of the elections in Kashmir without international monitoring’. This is, of course, entirely within the established confines of the fractious Indo-Pak discourse, but when it is faithfully echoed by leaders of the ‘free world’ – including many in America – there is reason for both surprise and concern.

Another demand by the terrorist groupings operating in J&K, by their leaders headquartered in Pakistan, and by their state sponsors there is for the ‘release of political prisoners’ prior to the proposed elections, a demand, once again, conscientiously echoed by the leaders of the ‘free world’. This creates the image of hundreds of ‘political prisoners’ languishing in India’s prisons – which is arrant nonsense. Data available indicates that, with over 35,540 militants and suspects apprehended by security forces between 1990 and May 2001, on the latter date, a total of just 321 persons were still in judicial custody in J&K on various charges relating to terrorism (the rest had all been released, in due course, on bail or after preliminary investigations). There were, among these, none who could legitimately answer to the title of ‘political prisoner.’

The demand for the release of ‘political prisoners’ prominently refers to Yasin Malik and to Syed Ali Shah Geelani, members of the separatist Hurriyat Conference. As for Malik, it is a measure of the inefficiency and licentiousness of India’s justice and political systems that he could, till a few weeks ago, walk free. He is a prime accused in the murder of four Indian Air Force personnel in Srinagar in 1990; he was one of the architects of the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping that set the current wave of terrorism in motion in 1989; and as the head of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) – the most prominent gang of terrorists in the State between 1989 and 1993 – he directly engineered hundreds of other murders before he chose to ‘come overground’ and ‘join the political process.’ And it is, to its abiding disgrace, perhaps only in India among democracies, that a former terrorist can so easily project himself and be accepted as a political leader. Geelani, in turn, was recently arrested (on June 9, 2002) on specific charges of illegal transfers of large sums of money from paymasters abroad to active terror groups in J&K. In the US, a man like Malik would long have been dispatched to the electric chair or gas chamber; and Geelani would have difficulty finding a lawyer to defend him in court. It is inconceivable how the release of individuals such as these can be of relevance to the legitimacy of a democratic electoral process.

There is a need, here, to begin to make clearer distinctions in the contemporary democratic discourse, and to suspend the artificial and absurd parity of status that is currently maintained between positions articulated by a democracy such as India, and an authoritarian state such as Pakistan. A separation of discourse among democracies, on the one hand, and that between democracies and various non-democratic, authoritarian and rogue states, on the other, is necessary if any rationality is to be imposed in the international discourse. While ‘constructive engagement’ with the latter category may be necessary or expedient in order to secure improvements in conditions within these states – states which deny and abuse the fundamental democratic rights of their people – such states must not be allowed to dictate the course and character of the discourse among democratic nations.

A closer look at the context of elections in J&K is useful. First, the terrorist conglomerate United Jehad Council (UJC), which operates openly from Pakistan, has issued direct threats of violence to disrupt the election process in J&K – and already several potential candidates, primarily from the ruling National Conference, have been assassinated. This, interestingly, has evoked little response from the very vocal defenders of freedom and democracy in the ‘international community.’

The separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) has long been claiming to represent the ‘will of the people of Kashmir’. For years they have been seeking negotiations to secure a privileged place on the democratic table as the ‘sole representatives’ of the Kashmiri people, but simply and obstinately refuse to enter the electoral process on equal terms. The reason is not far to find – go to Kashmir and talk to his worst critics, and they will tell you that Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and his National Conference – for better or for worse – will win hands down. And they don’t need to rig the elections. The Hurriyat refuses to participate because it fears that its pretensions to popularity will be debunked

As for ‘monitoring’ the elections, if the objective is simply to ensure that these are free and fair, the conditions are more than easily met without the uncertain and politically questionable device of an official international monitor. The possibility of such an international monitor is specifically precluded by India’s Representation of the People Act, which bars both foreigners and private Indian citizens from appointment as observers.

This does not, however, preclude, or even dilute, the possibility of transparency. If there is, indeed, a real and unbiased desire to see free and fair elections in J&K – and not just to play the ‘Great Game’ in this region – let the nations of the world saturate J&K with their diplomats and their media. The latter will, in any event, be there in overwhelming numbers with or without such ‘concerned’ intervention. Let the smallest infraction, the least incident of abuse, be magnified a million-fold through the media across the world as a measure of India’s failure. India has made it abundantly clear that it would have no objection to – and would, indeed, facilitate – such a presence, without any limit to numbers. But if any Western country, or coalition of states, presumes that it can interfere in processes of constitutional governance in India, a lesson in rudimentary geography is, perhaps, in order: India is not Pakistan 

Author is Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi

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