Survey shows preferences across Kashmir

The first-ever survey on both sides of Kashmir by Robert W Bradnock, a senior fellow at Chatham House, UK's most influential think-tank, has shown that only two percent of people in Jammu and Kashmir want to join Pakistan while 43 percent prefer independence. The survey 'Kashmir: Paths to Peace' has been sponsored by Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi's son, Dr Saiful Islam.

Bradnock has been quoted as saying that the idea of conducting survey in Kashmir was decided upon after several rounds of discussions between him and Dr. Saif. “We first came in touch when Dr. Saif was running a charity in Libya which was trying to help Kashmiri refugees, mainly in Pakistan.” The opinion poll was commissioned by Dr Saif in May 2009 and administered in September-October, the same year.

“This is the first poll to be conducted on both sides of LoC that has separated Indian and Pakistani administered Kashmir since UN-brokered ceasefire on 1 January 1949”, says the survey. It added that the purpose of the poll was to establish current attitudes in Kashmir on both sides of the LoC to alternative scenarios for the resolution of the conflict.

The survey quotes, “81 percent [66 percent in Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) and 87 percent in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)] say unemployment is most significant problem facing Kashmiris. Government corruption (22 percent in PaK and 68 percent in J&K), poor economic development (42 percent in PaK, 45 percent in J&K), human rights abuses (19 percent in PaK and 43 percent in J&K) and Kashmir conflict itself (24 percent in PaK and 36 percent in J&K) are all seen as major problems”.

It observed that 80 percent of Kashmiris feel that the dispute is important to them, personally. “The two questions envisaged under UN resolutions of 1948/49, which proposed a plebiscite, were restricted to choice of whole of former princely state of J&K joining India or Pakistan. This poll shows that preference for those options is highly polarized. 21 percent of population said they would vote for whole of Kashmir to join India and 15 percent said they would vote for it to join Pakistan. Only one percent in PaK says they would vote to join India whereas only two percent in J&K say they would vote to join Pakistan”.

Referring to further polarization between districts, it says “the option of independence has been widely promoted on both sides of LoC over the last 20 years. Although 43 percent of the total population support independence, in only five out of 18 districts the majority prefers independence of entire Kashmir”.

These results, says the survey, support an already widespread view that plebiscite options are likely to offer no solution to the dispute. “Nor is there evidence that an independence option could offer a straightforward alternative. Any solution will depend on Indian and Pakistani governments' commitment to achieving a permanent settlement”. The poll suggests that such a settlement will depend critically on engaging fully with all shades of Kashmiri political opinion.

Dr. Bradnock and Ipsos MORI designed the poll. Ipsos MORI administered the poll in conjunction with FACTS Worldwide, which conducted fieldwork in India and managed Aftab Associates Pvt Ltd, which carried out fieldwork in Pakistan. On the basis of quota sampling, 3,774 face-to-face interviews were completed with adults aged over 16.

Of the total respondents, 2,374 were in 11 of 14 pre-2008 districts of J&K. The districts excluded were Doda, Pulwama and Kupwara. 1400 were in seven of eight districts in PaK. The district of Neelum was excluded, along with Gilgit-Baltistan (the Northern Areas). The data was weighted (by district, urban, rural, age and gender) to reflect population profile according to the most recent Census on each side of LoC.

“For practical reasons, sample in both countries was predominantly from urban areas, but quotas were set to ensure that 40 percent of sample in each country were from rural areas”, said the survey. Questionnaires were administered in Dogri, Urdu, Koshur (Kashmiri) and Hindi”.

The survey observed that 36 percent across LoC believed that militant violence would be less likely to solve Kashmir dispute compared to 24 percent who thought it would be more likely to.

In response to options for political future, an overwhelming wish for change and resolution of dispute was found. “Less than one percent in either PaK or J&K said that they would vote for no change and to keep status quo”.

It found preference for independence was fairly uniform across districts in PaK but it was uneven in J&K. In Kashmir valley division it was between 75 to 95 percent; none in Poonch, Rajauri, Udhampur and Kathua of Jammu division and in Jammu itself it was just one percent. In Ladakh division, it was 30 percent in Leh and 20 percent in Kargil”.

With reference to the option for whole Kashmir to join India, 21 percent said they would vote to join India. “In PaK one percent said they would vote to join India and 28 percent in J&K said they would vote to join India”. It further observed 50 percent in PaK voted for whole J&K to join Pakistan. “In J&K, two percent said they would vote to join Pakistan”.

It quotes, “The two options for entire Kashmir to join either India or Pakistan were envisaged under UN resolutions proposing a plebiscite in 1948/49. Yet there is no evidence that either joining India or Pakistan would come close to obtain more than a quarter of total vote”.

The survey pointed that one percent in PaK say they would vote to join India and 28 percent in J&K indicated an intention to vote to join India. “But that 28 percent is itself polarized. In Kashmir division support for joining India ranged from 2 to 22 percent. In four districts (Kargil, Leh, Kathua and Udhampur) a majority say they would vote to join India. There is even less support across entire Kashmir for joining Pakistan. In PaK, the intention to vote for this option is just 50 percent, in J&K it istwo percent”.

“This poll, in common with two preceding polls in J&K shows that setting aside all other political obstacles, it is difficult to see how plebiscite proposed in UN resolutions of 1948/49 could play any part today in the resolution of the dispute. There is no clear majority in the prospect for independence either. In J&K there is a majority in favour of outright independence for entire Kashmir in only four districts, all in Kashmir valley division and in five other districts the support for independence is one percent or less”, reports the survey.

About alternative scenarios, the survey observed that making LoC a permanent border received 14 percent of support and was preferred option for nearly all of those in Poonch and Rajauri. In other districts of PaK and J&K hardly any would prefer this as an option, with exception of Jammu and Udhampur where those who prefer it are still in minority.

The remaining options, the survey added, received minimal support. “Joint sovereignty attracted a total voting intention of two percent, status quo less than one percent”. It added that 58 percent of respondents were prepared to accept LoC as a permanent border if it could be liberalized for people and trade to move across it freely.

The study found 76 percent of respondents supporting the removal of all mines on both sides of LoC. It also observed that 66 percent in J&K think removal of Indian security forces will help bring peace. (Afsana Rashid)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 July 2010 on page no. 15

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