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Kashmir's Aspirations Go Beyond Imposed Elections


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The deceptive peace of the Jhelum Valley ends abruptly at Chakoti, a lonely military outpost on the "Line of Control," the de facto border that divides the disputed territory of Kashmir.

After mile upon mile of rust-colored cornfields, the steep mountain slopes suddenly give way to bunkers and sophisticated surveillance equipment to check intrusions by Indian soldiers hidden in pine forests only a few hundred yards away.

Chakoti is situated in Azad (Free) Kashmir, a nominally independent state inside Pakistan with its own president, prime minister, and government. But on Indian maps the Jhelum Valley and most of northern Pakistan forms part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over their rival territorial claims to divided Kashmir and the dispute dominates the foreign and defense policies of both countries.

New Delhi accuses Islamabad of fueling the seven-year-old insurgency inside Jammu and Kashmir by training and equipping the pro-independence guerrillas. Islamabad counters by highlighting alleged Indian human rights atrocities in the area and the plight of Kashmiri refugees inside Pakistan.

The war of words escalated in recent weeks when India held the first elections in nearly a decade to the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly.

"The elections are a sham. Instead of one man, one vote, the largest democracy in the world has given another notion: that of one soldier with a gun behind every voter," says Mehmood Chaudhary, the premier of Azad Kashmir.

Although India has consistently ruled out the longstanding UN demand that a plebiscite be held to allow Kashmiris decide their future, India's new United Front government has promised the state the same degree of autonomy after the elections as enjoyed by Azad Kashmir.


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