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Something cooking in Kashmir?

If undercurrents and a flurry of activities on political front are any indication, the contentious Kashmir problem seems to be heading towards some headway. There are enough indications that something is cooking in Kashmir, that might lead towards some solution of the long standing Kashmir dispute. Kashmir has been the most contentious issue between two warring South Asian nations, India and Pakistan for more than fifty years. If analysts are to be believed, the latest announcement of formation of an election commission by All Party Hurriyet Conference (APHC), that has been advocating a plebiscite in Kashmir, is also closely interwoven with the same game-plan. 

Hurriyet Conference finally announced the names of its six-member election commission on 13 February after dilly dallying for more than two weeks. It has been talking of forming an election commission of its own for last two weeks to hold elections to choose representatives to talk with India and Pakistan governments. The members whose names were announced by the Hurriyet chairmen Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhat in Srinagar included Tapan Bose a Kathmandu based human rights activist, Sajjad Ali Shah, retired chief justice of Pakistan, Ved Bhasin, a prominent journalist and editor-publisher of Jammu based newspaper Kashmir Times, Zafar Mehdi, a medical practitioner from Kashmir, Siddiq Wahid, a Ladakhi scholar and Raja Khurshid,a retired chief justice in the Pak held Kashmir. 

While announcing the names of its six-member election commission, the Hurriyet chief said, the persons concerned had agreed to help in the Hurriyet endeavor of conducting elections in the state and the Pakistan held Kashmir. He added that purpose of the whole exercise was to elect the true representatives of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, who could discuss its future in tripartite talks, involving both, India and Pakistan. He added that the six persons elected by the Hurriyet executive committee were men of integrity, and hoped the centre would not obstruct the Hurriyet proposal. 

To a question, Bhat said a poll rule book would be out soon to govern the polls to determine the representative character of the conglomerate. Prof. Bhat said the panel would work as per their rules and regulations, but the Hurriyet reserved the right to take vital decision regarding the elections on its own. He said any citizen of the state including the Pak held Kashmir, could participate in the elections. When asked as to whether the consent of the members had been sought before announcing the names, Bhat answered in affirmative. 

Meanwhile the not so strong response from the Indian side has added more to speculations. In New Delhi, the Election Commission of government of India brushed aside the formation of the independent panel and said the APHC's motive behind setting up the commission was entirely different. 'Their setting up of an election commission is entirely different from the purpose for which our Commission has been constituted. We elect governments, while their purpose seems to be totally different', Election Commission spokesman AN Jha said. He declined to say whether the EC would initiate any action against the APHC mooted panel. 'We will wait and see', the spokesman said. There were no other strong comments on formation of the poll panel by the APHC.

There are efforts afoot to bring the APHC to participate in the assembly elections. Elections in the state are slated to be held in October this year. The APHC too for the first time has not denied the speculations over its participation in the polls. Mirwaiz Molvi Umar Farooq, a member of the APHC executive committee and its former chairman told this correspondent that his amalgam was not averse to participate in polls, given, the polls are held under international observers. Another quick development is the decision of the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to bow out of the state politics. He has announced to bring his son Omar Abdullah, a minister in the central government in New Delhi in the state politics. 

These two developments at quick pace-Farooq Abdullah announcing that he will bow out of the Kashmir scene and the APHC getting ready to participate in polls-leave little doubt that the Kashmir scene is hotting up. Moves are on to get the Hurriyet contest the Kashmir assembly elections to give the pro-Pakistan organization a more Indian face. 

If these efforts bear fruit, the elections in the state, scheduled for October this year may lead to dramatic developments in Kashmir. If the Hurriyet demand to hold elections under an impartial supervision is met, Jammu and Kashmir chief will have likely to bow out of the state political scene. In such a case, if Farooq moves out leaving a vacuum to be filled, the Hurriyet is ready to fill the vacuum by joining the election process, which at the same time will make the Hurriyet owe its allegiance to the Indian Constitution. Every candidate contesting election in any part of India has to swear by the Indian Constitution at the time of filing his nomination papers. If the Hurriyet accepts Indian Constitution, the Indian government may agree to open dialogue and sort out its difference. 

There is another story about the new plan doing the rounds in political circles. Under the 'new plan' political elements in Kashmir will take the lead and start negotiations with New Delhi on the various solutions for the disputed Valley. It is said that the APHC after prolonged behind-the-curtain discussions with Indian emissaries, has in principle decided to take a decisive step. Putting aside the hope for a plebiscite under the UN, the APHC plans to contest elections in Kashmir. Sources say that APHC leaders are projecting the outcome as referendum on their stand towards the attainment of the objective of self determination. Sources say the APHC is sure of sweeping the elections and its first action in the house would be a secessionist motion. This they say would put the Indian government in a spot and the world community would jump behind the bandwagon of the new legislature supporting their popular voice under the norms of democracy. 

But that is not going to be that much easy. Indian government as well as the Hurriyet leaders are well aware that there are just a few leaders in the conglomerate who have some effective constituency in the Valley. Besides, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Jamaat-e-Islami Kashmir's Syed Ali Shah Geelani, no other Hurriyet leader has a formidable following. On the other hand there are several other leaders out of the Hurriyet's ambit who have their own constituency like Shabbir Shah.

Meanwhile, Ved Bhasin, a member of the Hurriyet's proposed poll panel has welcomed Hurriyet proposal. In an editorial in the Kashmir Times, he writes, 'By announcing its decision to participate in the electoral process for the limited purpose of determining the representatives of the people in all the three regions including the areas on the other side of the Line of Control the Hurriyet has sent clear signal that it was willing to participate in a process of dialogue to solve the crisis. At the same time it has demonstrated its faith in the democratic process instead of deciding the political problem with the help of gun.'
If things go the right way, it will also mean an end to 13-year old militancy in the state. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq admitted while talking to this correspondent that the era of militancy is practically over. Tapan Bose, who has been appointed as one of the two chairmen of the APHC poll panel has also demanded that the task demands total end to militancy in the state. 

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