Editorial: Elections are no substitute for plebiscite

A new wave of Kashmir uprising, sparked by last July’s killing by Indian security forces of a young freedom fighter, Burhan Wani, remains invincible in the face of Indian military might.

In last week’s by-election in held Kashmir, the people responded by boycotting the polls and holding protest demonstrations. Eight people were killed and more than 100 injured in clashes with the Indian army and police.

Only 7 percent of the voters cast their ballots, forcing New Delhi to order re-polling in several stations last Thursday. The result was not any different; in fact, the voter turnout was even lower – only 2 percent, with only 709 votes cast. This was the outcome despite a massive security presence – three security personnel to each voter – to provide safety to voters.

That held Kashmir happens to be one of the world’s most militarised zones is evidence enough that its people do not want to live under Indian rule. In fact, the soldiers are fatigued and fearful of fighting the stone throwing Kashmiri youth. On the day of re-polling, a Rashtriya Rifles company used a Kashmiri young man as a human shield, tying him to the front of an army jeep with a paper pinned on his chest that said “I’m a stone pelter”.

Later, as a heated controversy erupted about the shameful use of a human as protection, an officer explained that this was done to rescue security personnel surrounded by over 500 stone pelting protesters, thereby unwittingly acknowledging two things: first, the uprising – contrary to Indian allegations of it being the handiwork of Pakistani infiltrators – is essentially an indigenous movement; and second, it is too strong to control. It is pertinent also to recall in the context that one of the key arguments used by India to rebuff the demand for plebiscite to decide the future of Kashmir as per UN resolutions has been that the Kashmiri people participate in elections – termed sham by the Kashmiri leadership – hence there is no need to hold a referendum. By rejecting the latest election, an overwhelming majority of the people have shown they are unwilling to accept anything short of independence.

India has committed colossal atrocities in Kashmir. Since the uprising first began in 1989, an estimated one hundred thousand people have died, and as reported by respected international human rights organisations, as such Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, countless others have been subjected to extra-judicial killings, and rape also used as a weapon of war. During the last one year, more than one hundred youth have fallen to security forces bullets, scores blinded from pellet gun shots, and thousands arrested and subjected to extreme torture.

Tensions have also been rising between Pakistan – a party to the Kashmir dispute – and India, with recurring outbreak of violence across the LoC and the Working Boundary, causing loss of several civilian and military lives. Given the gross human rights violations in the Valley and growing hostilities between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, the international community needs to intervene to stop the oppression and also resolve the core issue of Pak-India dispute.

The AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider has urged the OIC to play its role, and use economic boycott to pressure India to settle Kashmir issue according to the wishes of its people. So far, the OIC has been offering moral support on the issue, it is about time it backs moral support with meaningful action.