OVER 800 people, including a state minister, were killed by the Islamic militant groups during legislative assembly elections in Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK).

The elections to a 87-member assembly were held in four phases, under the boot of hundreds of thousands of Indian paramilitary forces, on 16 and 24 September and 1 and 8 October.

Massive abstention was reported in the first phase, due to the volatile situation in the state, where armed Islamic groups and the political organisations to which they are linked - the APHC (a pro-Pakistan grouping of over dozen organisations) - called for total boycott and a complete strike.

The first phase of voting also witnessed rocket attacks on polling stations and the exchange of artillery between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control (the ceasefire line separting Pakistani and Indian troops in occupied Kashmir). Only in the last two phases did the turnout pick up. Widespread ballot rigging, including the misuse of electronic voting machines, was also reported. Yet George Bush and Tony Blair have appoved the elections.

The ruling party - National Conference (NC) - led by Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah was routed. It won only 28 seats (down from 70 seats in the 1996 elections), amidst widespread allegations of rigging and the misuse of state machinery to prop up its candidates against oppositions groups. Omar Abullah lost his seat in Srinagar city, as did five state ministers and the deputy speaker. Its partner, the BJP (India’s ruling party), was heavily defeated, gaining only one seat from Jammu Province (down from eight last time).

The winners, have been the Congress (I) party (India’s main capitalist opposition party led by Sonia Gandhi) headed by Ghlaum Nabi Azad and the recently formed Peoples Democratic Party of Mufti Sayeed (the PDP shares a similar pro-capitalist programme with Congress) which won 16 seats, all from Kashmir Valley. The Communist Party of India CPI (M) (a reformist Left party) won two seats from Kashmir Valley.

Regional crisis

INDIA AND Pakistan, the two nuclear powers in South Asia, have been eyeball to eyeball, with over million troops facing each other. This confrontation was triggered when Islamic guerrillas attacked the Indian parliament in December 2001.

The two countries again came to a brink of a full-blown conflict in June, after an attack by Islamic guerrillas, alleged by India to be backed by the Pakistani regime, on an army camp in Jammu. This confrontation forced tens of thousands of civilians to migrate from villages on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC – the ceasefie line dividing Kashmir). Dozens of civilians, including children, were killed and injured by heavy artillery exchanges.

With over 1 million troops massed on the border between India and Pakistan both powers tested missiles on 4 October, few days before the final round of polling in IOK and also the 10 October elections in Pakistan. Recent demobilisations of forces along the LoC indicate troop fatigue rather than any peace moves.

The masses of Kashmir, India and Pakistan have been made hostage to the ongoing confrontation between the Indian and Pakistani ruling classes. The beating of ‘patriotic’ war drums serves to divert attention from the dire social and economic crisis in both countries and in occupied Kashmir and the failure of the regional capitalist powers to tackle the widespread poverty, unemployment, hunger and disease faced by the masses.

In addition, the capitalist policies of International Monetary Fund and World Bank would will create further chaos and instability for the masses of not only Kashmir but whole of south Asia.

The only genuine basis for a true national liberation for the masses of Kashmir is through the overthrow of capitalism and landlordism by a united and organised struggle of the youth, workers and poor peasants of South Asia.

An independent and democratic socialist Kashmir as a part of a voluntary confederation of socialist states in South Asia, would include the right of autonomy for different nationalities, including Gilgit-Baltistan and Ladkh, with full cultural and language rights for all minorities in the state.

This article first appeared in the Socialist (24 October 2002), newspaper of the Socialist Party in England and Wales.

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