There has been some avoidable brouhaha on the views expressed by the United States Secretary of State Colin Powell on elections in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Mr Powell’s statement in New Delhi is crystal clear. Consider the text: “We welcome India’s commitment to hold free and fair elections, and we believe an inclusive election, meeting these standards, can serve as the first step towards peace and reconciliation. We look forward to concrete steps by India to foster Kashmiri confidence in the election process. Permitting independent observers and freeing political prisoners would be helpful.” Mr Powell followed this up with a warning to all those who oppose an election in J&K: “We also look to all parties to do their part to ensure that the upcoming elections can be held in safety and without interference from those who would like to spoil them, for those who do not wish to see peace and reconciliation. Kashmiris want to run or vote in the elections. And if they do so, they should be allowed to do so, without endangering their lives.” Going beyond this, Mr Powell has shown an understanding of India’s view that while ‘independent observers’ can go into J&K during election time, no official ‘monitors’ are welcome. The open support of the US to the democratic process in J&K is a huge diplomatic victory for India.
While no democracy, especially an enduring one like India, will accept “official monitoring and certification” of elections by outsiders, no one can object to the presence of independent observers. The more important aspect of the international view today on J&K elections is that the world community has come to recognise the legitimacy of the Indian view that J&K is an integral part of India. The first step in this direction was taken by the Clinton administration in 1999 when it underscored the “sanctity of the Line of Control” and its inviolability. The Bush administration took this a step forward by declaring all “infiltration” by Pakistanis and others resident in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir across the LoC as illegitimate. A commitment to end this was extracted by the US from General Pervez Musharraf, whatever fudging the General may now want to resort to. Coming on top of the recognition of the sanctity of LoC, this international commitment to a fair and free election in J&K is a major diplomatic gain for India. A second commandment! Rather than celebrate this gain, many critics of the US in India are getting needlessly agitated about what Mr Powell said. Kashmir has been on the international agenda since December 13th because terrorism has been on the international agenda since September 11th. Simple as that!