Elections in Kashmir
CRS Report for Congress
Elections in Kashmir
K. Alan Kronstadt
Analyst in Asian Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
The United States welcomed the successful October conclusion of 2002 elections
in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, where nearly half of the electorate cast
ballots. The elections resulted in the ousting of the long-dominant National Conference
party, allies of the national coalition-leading Bharatiya Janata Party, thus bolstering the
credibility of the process and dampening criticism from some quarters that the elections
were flawed or “farcical.” The opposition Indian National Congress and the regional
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) won a combined 36 seats in the state assembly, and
Congress leader Sonia Gandhi agreed to a first-ever power-sharing coalition. PDP
leader Mufti Mohammed Sayeed has assumed the office of Chief Minister vowing to
bring a “healing touch” to state politics. His “common minimum program” includes
controversial policies – including the freeing of jailed political prisoners – that have
been lauded by some and criticized by others. The new government’s seeming
moderation has brought renewed hopes for peace in the troubled region.
The United States had urged the holding of free and fair elections to be followed
by renewed dialogue between India and Pakistan to resolve their long-running dispute.
India has made clear that it will not engage such dialogue until Islamabad has put an end
to cross-border infiltration of Islamic militants into Indian-held Kashmir. Following the
elections, New Delhi announced a major troop redeployment after a tense ten-month
standoff at the India-Pakistan frontier. Militant separatist groups in both Pakistan and
Kashmir have stated that the ground realities are unchanged and so their violent
campaign will continue. In apparent confirmation of these statements, numerous
coordinated attacks in November 2002 killed dozens. This report will not be updated.1
In September and October 2002, elections to the state assembly were held in the
Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Previous polls, held in 1996, were marked by
widespread violence, low turnout, and charges of rampant rigging and fraud. Separatist
violence in the state has caused some 60,000 Kashmiri deaths since an uprising began in
1 This is a final update and revision of a report originally authored by Amit Gupta, Consultant in
South Asian Affairs.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
sparking the violence. The 2002 elections saw the defeat of the ruling National
Conference and the emergence of two parties – the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and
the Indian National Congress – in state politics, a development that has raised hopes for
progress in settling the regional conflict. The infiltration of Islamic militants into
Kashmir, oftentimes actively supported by Pakistan, is widely viewed as a key contributor
to ongoing conflict, but many also note the sometimes draconian practices of Indian
security forces that have alienated many Kashmiri citizens and so represent another
significant obstacle to peaceful settlement.
The 2002 polls were important for several reasons. New Delhi sought to ensure that
an election was held in which the entire spectrum of Kashmiri political opinion was
reflected. A free and fair election with large-scale participation may bolster the Indian
claim that the democratic process had worked and that Kashmir is a willing and integral
part of India. It also may blunt both domestic and international criticism of India’s
handling of the security situation in the state as well as weaken Pakistani claims to the
territory. A large voter turnout was not anticipated after militant separatist groups
threatened violence against any and all participants in the elections, both candidates and
Pakistan made it clear that it does not recognize the legality or legitimacy of Kashmir
elections, and Islamabad continues its calls for a plebiscite under U.N. auspices.
Describing the Kashmir elections as “farcical,” Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf
vowed to continue work to resolve the Kashmir dispute and grant self-determination to
the Kashmiri people, stating that “The struggle for self-determination of our Kashmiri
brothers is a sacred trust with us, which can never be compromised.”2
Indian officials expected growing levels of violence, believing that such violence
would be encouraged by Pakistan in order to disrupt the elections. The rationale for
active disruption was traced by some to the domestic political problems of President
Musharraf, who faced strong criticism from both religious conservatives and from
mainstream political parties. Indian analysts saw backtracking on his verbal agreement
to stop infiltration as a way of appeasing both domestic constituencies. With the strong
performance of Islamic fundamentalist parties in the October 2002 Pakistan elections, it
is expected that there will be increased pressure on President Musharraf to actively
support separatist groups in Kashmir.
The Events of September and October 2002
Domestically, Indian efforts to defeat an armed insurrection in the predominantly
Muslim Kashmir valley and to obtain greater political participation in the state have been
hindered by the position taken by both hardline Muslim and Hindu groups. Hardline
Kashmiri Muslim militant groups refused to participate in the elections and threatened to
violently disrupt them. This threat was made good during the elections, especially in the
third stage where the state witnessed several attacks by militant groups. More moderate
groups, most notably the 23-party All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), refused to
2 “Excerpts from Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s Independence Day Speech,” BBC News,
August 14, 2002.
participate in the polls because they questioned the fairness of the process and the refusal
of the Indian government, in their eyes, to make more significant concessions on the
future status of the state. The Hurriyat had considered participating in the elections but
only if its elected officials did not have to take an oath of allegiance to the Indian
constitution. What the Hurriyat seeks is a series of substantive, tripartite talks with the
Indian and Pakistani governments to determine a final status for Kashmir.
Part of the problem remains the divided nature of the Hurriyat. The Hurriyat
leadership also remain under threat from the violent militant groups, and most of them,
while espousing independence from India, have bodyguards provided by the Indian
government. As one Kashmiri separatist leader, Shabir Shah, put it, the 23-party amalgam
had failed to provide a “unified” command for holding talks with the Kashmir Committee
(a nongovernmental organization seeking a solution to the Kashmir problem).3 Thus, an
environment of fear, coupled with the lack of a coherent agenda, placed some domestic
constraints on the electoral process.
The U.S. position was outlined by Secretary of State Powell during his July 2002
visit to South Asia, where the Secretary stated,
We are looking to both India and Pakistan to take steps that begin to bring peace to
the region and to ensure a better future for the Kashmiri people. The problems with
Kashmir cannot be resolved through violence, but only through a healthy political
process and a vibrant dialogue. ... Elections alone, however, cannot resolve the
problems between India and Pakistan, nor can they erase the scars of so many years
of strife. Elections can however, be a first step in a broader process that begins to4
address Kashmiri grievances and leads India and Pakistan back to dialogue.
The Bush Administration’s stated objectives were to see a free and fair election in
Kashmir, unhindered by violence as much as possible, followed by renewed diplomatic
dialogue between India and Pakistan. It is with this policy that the United States sent a
team of State Department and U.S. embassy officials to Jammu and Kashmir to meet the
Hurriyat leadership and, reportedly, to convince them to participate in the elections.5 The
Indian government expressed resentment over the call for “fostering Kashmiri confidence
in the election process,” as it believed that if terrorist violence was checked it could hold
an election where both candidates and voters are free of intimidation. New Delhi also
ruled out the need for international observers, stating that both journalists and interested
observers were free to go to Kashmir in an unofficial capacity and had been doing so for
The United States has sought to reconcile Indian and Pakistani concerns to its own
security interests in the region. Numerous reported links between Afghani jihadi groups,
domestic terrorist groups in Pakistan, and the militant groups in Kashmir provide a policy
3 “Shabir Shah Assails Hurriyat Stand,” Hindu (Madras), August 26, 2002.
4 Secretary Colin Powell, “Press Conference in New Delhi,” July 28, 2002, available at
[ ht t p: / / www.st at e.gov/ secr et ar y/ r m/ 2002/ 12228.ht m] .
5 Shujat Bukhari, “U.S. Delegation in J&K,” Hindu (Madras), August 27, 2002.
6 Arati R. Jerath, “Powell’s Poll Remark Tests India-Positive,” Indian Express (Bombay), July
rationale for combating them as part of a general anti-terror campaign. At the same time,
bringing about a peaceful settlement of outstanding issues between India and Pakistan
appears important to long-term U.S. interests in the region.
Election Results and Political Consequences
For security purposes, the polls were held in four stages, but still were marred by
militant violence. Press reports estimate at least 700 killings in the state – including those
of 84 political workers and two candidates – between New Delhi’s announcement of
elections on August 2nd and the polling’s October 8th conclusion.7 In some districts, most
notably those in the Kashmir valley, the turnout was quite low – in the single digits, even
– while in others it was close to 60%. The average turnout overall was just below 44%.8
The ruling National Conference party was ousted from power in the 2002 elections,
though it did win a plurality of seats in the state assembly (28 of a total 87). The Indian
National Congress won 20 seats, and party leader Sonia Gandhi agreed to a first-ever
power-sharing arrangement with the regional People’s Democratic Party (PDP), itself the
winner of 16 seats, all of them from the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. The alliance
of several smaller parties provides a working majority. PDP leader and veteran politician
Mufti Mohammed Sayeed will serve as Chief Minister for three years, after which time
he is to be replaced by a Congress Party member as per the coalition agreement. Most top
ministerial positions have gone to Congress members.
The Congress-PDP coalition has agreed to a “common minimum program” (CMP)
for the governance of Jammu and Kashmir. Several of the CMP policies are highly
controversial in their “softened” approach to militancy in the state. These include
launching investigations into the deaths of prisoners and the fate of thousands who have
disappeared following their arrest; the disbanding of the feared Special Operations Group,
a counterinsurgency police unit; the release of political prisoners; the opening of a
dialogue with militant groups; and the scrapping of the national Prevention of Terrorism
Act that has been criticized as abusive of human rights.
The CMP proposals, while fulfilling an election promise to address Kashmiri
grievances against separatist militants and Indian security forces alike, have come under
fire from Hindu nationalists and top officials in New Delhi, many of whom believe that
they will only encourage militancy and are contrary to India’s interests.9 Moreover, the
national status of the Congress Party requires that it avoid appearing “soft on militancy”
and so may add to the obstacles facing Sayeed’s government.10 From the opposite quarter,
the commander of a leading militant group, the Hizbul Mujahideen, called the proposals
7 Rama Lakshmi, “Kashmir Voting Ends in Violence,” Washington Post, October 9, 2002.
8 Election statistics are official and come from the independent Election Commission of India at
[ h t t p : / / www.e c i .gov.i n] .
9 “India Ruling Party Slams Agenda of New Kashmir Leader,” Agence France-Presse, November
10 Rama Lakshmi, “Kashmiri Politics At ‘Crucial Stage,’” Washington Post, November 17, 2002.
“cosmetic” and far short of what Kashmiris seek.11 Pakistan-based militants threatened
Sayeed and the PDP with “forceful action” if they entered into a coalition with what
opponents describe as an “Indian puppet government.”12 Many ordinary Kashmiris,
meanwhile, are reported to be pleased with many aspects of the new government’s
The decision to release several well-known political prisoners has spurred heightened
debate and accusations. During November 2002, the Jammu and Kashmir government
freed at least 11 top-ranking activists of both pro-Pakistan and pro-independence militant
groups after they were granted bail by courts.14 The New Delhi leadership, including
Prime Minister Vajpayee and Deputy PM Advani, expressed dismay at the moves and
urged caution. Sayeed responded by questioning the political motives of the BJP, but in
his first official meetings with top national officials in early December 2002, Sayeed
stated that, “There is complete understanding between New Delhi and the state
government over vital issues relating to Kashmir and negotiations with various Kashmiri
The PDP is not politically strong in the Hindu-majority Jammu or heavily Buddhist
Ladakh regions of the state. For this reason, analysts believe Sayeed must give attention
to placating all constituencies, not merely his traditional base in the Srinagar area. The
continued and increased flow of development aid from New Delhi to Jammu and Kashmir
is central to this effort, and Sayeed has vowed to ensure that all regions of the state are
treated equally in this regard.16
From a political perspective, the elections strengthened somewhat the Indian
government’s position on Kashmir. With the people of the state reportedly viewing the
results as mostly credible, the Hurriyat apparently missed a chance to demonstrate its
claims to being the genuine representative of the Kashmiri people. The unexpectedly high
voter turnout weakened Pakistan’s position on Kashmir, to a large extent belying
Islamabad’s claim that the elections were “farcical.” With a representative government
in place there may be a stronger push to end militancy in the state as Kashmiri leaders see
the value of the ballot box over the rifle in accomplishing political change.
11 “Kashmir Pledges Get Mixed Response,” BBC News, October 28, 2002.
12 Ashok Sharma, “Indian Parties Try to Form Coalition in Kashmir,” Washington Post, October
27, 2002. Sayeed’s inauguration day was marred by a failed attempt on his life when two
grenades detonated near his Srinagar home.
13 M. Saleem Pandit, “Mufti’s Plan to Curb SOG Delights Kashmiris,” Times of India (Delhi),
October 31, 2002.
14 In addition to indigenous Kashmiri militants being freed, the founder of the Pakistan-based
Lashkar-e-Taiba – a group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government – was
released from a Pakistani prison in November 2002 and has vowed to continue the “holy war”
15 Seema Guha, “Mufti, Delhi Paper Over Differences,” Telegraph (Calcutta), December 2, 2002.
16 Shujaat Bukhari, “No Discrimination, Says Mufti,” Hindu (Madras), October 30, 2002.
The United States welcomed the successful conclusion of elections in Jammu and
Kashmir while condemning terrorist attacks “aimed at disrupting a democratic process
and intimidating the Kashmiri people.” It urged India and Pakistan to make a “strenuous
effort” to resume a dialogue on all outstanding issues, including Kashmir.17
Given New Delhi’s insistence that such dialogue cannot begin until Islamabad halts
the infiltration of militants into Jammu and Kashmir, it is the continuation of separatist
violence in the state that appears to be the core obstacle to diplomatic progress between
India and Pakistan. On an October 2002 visit to India, a top U.S. diplomat urged the
opening of dialogue despite ongoing infiltration.18 Robert Blackwill, the U.S. envoy to
New Delhi, believes that the problem in Kashmir is “cross-border terrorism” that is
“almost entirely externally driven.”19 He has indicated that the global fight against
terrorism will remain incomplete so long as terrorism continues in Kashmir.20
Formal congressional hearings have discussed, among other issues, the political
situation in Kashmir and the problem of cross-border infiltration.21 No major action with
respect to Kashmir is being taken at this juncture, although U.S. aid and military
cooperation programs with India and Pakistan are ongoing. Future issues that Congress
may face include whether or not there is a role for U.S. assistance in securing the Line of
Control between Pakistani- and Indian-held Kashmir. Some observers believe that U.S.
assistance with the physical installation of sensors and monitoring devices could help curb
infiltration into the Indian state.22 The Congress also faces issues related to levels of more
general economic and security assistance, including arms sales to both India and Pakistan,
along with the possibility of greater U.S. diplomatic involvement in the specific issue of
17 U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesman, “U.S. Welcomes Successful Conclusion
of Elections in Jammu, Kashmir,” October 10, 2002, available at
18 “U.S. Urges India-Pakistan Talks,” BBC News, October 29, 2002.
19 “Terrorism in Kashmir Externally Driven: U.S. Ambassador,” Agence France-Presse, October
20 Luv Puri, “Blackwill Meets Mufti,” Hindu (Madras), December 4, 2002.
21 For the most recent hearing testimony, see “Recent Events in South Asia” and the statement
of Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca before the Subcommittee
on Middle East and South Asia of the House International Relations Committee, July 18, 2002,
available at [http://www.house.gov/international_relations/80819.pdf]. See also “The Current
Crisis in South Asia,” June 6, 2002, at [http://www.house.gov/international_relations/80061.pdf].
22 Sandeep Dikshit, “Sensors First, Joint Patrolling Later?” Hindu (Madras), June 14, 2002.
23 For further reading, see CRS Reports IB93097, U.S.-India Relations, and IB94041, U.S.-
Pakistan Relations, by Alan Kronstadt; and RL31587, Kashmiri Separatists: Origins, Competing
Ideologies, and Prospects for Resolution of the Conflict, by Kaia Leather.