Kashmiris reject war in favour of democracy

Print edition : June 08, 2002
The results of a major new survey by MORI.

THE vast majority of Kashmiris oppose India and Pakistan going to war to find a permanent solution to the situation in Kashmir and believe that the correct way to bring peace to the region is through democratic elections, ending violence, and economic development. They also believe that the unique cultural identity of the region should be preserved in any long-term solution, and there is virtually no support for the State of Jammu and Kashmir being divided on the basis of religion or ethnic group.

These are the main findings to emerge from a poll conducted by the independent market research company, MORI International, at the end of April (April 20-28, 2002), just before the start of the recent escalation of conflict in the region. Interviews were conducted in Jammu and the surrounding rural areas, Srinagar and its surrounding rural areas and in Leh. Interviewers were set quotas for sex and religion (assessed by the interviewer) to match the population of each region.

Although the vast majority in Jammu and Leh believe that the correct way to bring about peace is through democratic elections, opinions are more evenly divided in and around Srinagar, with a bare majority (52 per cent) agreeing with this view. Nevertheless, the vast majority - 76 per cent - of those in the Srinagar region believe that India and Pakistan should not go to war to bring about a permanent solution. There is a general consensus across the regions that it is not possible to hold democratic elections while violence continues - 65 per cent agree while 34 per cent disagree.

A very clear majority of the population - 65 per cent - believes that the presence of foreign militants in Jammu and Kashmir is damaging to the Kashmir cause, and most of the rest take the view that it is neither damaging nor helpful. Overall, two-thirds of the people in Jammu and Kashmir take the view that Pakistan's involvement in the region for the last 10 years has been bad. Only 15 per cent believe that it has been good for the region, while 18 per cent say that it has made no real difference.

On the issue of citizenship, overall, 61 per cent said that they felt they would be better off politically and economically as an Indian citizen and only 6 per cent as a Pakistani citizen, but 33 per cent said they did not know.

A suggestion that most people do not feel that the current political parties have the solution to the problems in Kashmir is reflected in the fact that around half or more of the population in each region agree with the view that a "new political party is needed to bring about a permanent solution in Kashmir".

People in all regions are in general agreement that "the unique cultural identity of Jammu and Kashmir - Kashmiriyat - should be preserved in any long-term solution". Overall, 81 per cent agree, including 76 per cent in Srinagar and 81 per cent in Jammu.

THERE is also widespread consensus on the types of proposals which will help bring about peace in Jammu and Kashmir. More than 85 per cent of the population, including at least 70 per cent in each region, think that the following will help bring about peace:

* Economic development of the region to provide more job opportunities and reduction of poverty - 93 per cent

* The holding of free and fair elections to elect people's representatives - 86 per cent

* Direct consultation between the Indian government and the people of Kashmir - 87 per cent

* An end to militant violence in the region - 86 per cent

* Stopping the infiltration of militants across the Line of Control - 88 per cent

The critical role that people see for economic development in helping to solve the problems is underlined by the 74 per cent who think that ''people from outside of Kashmir being encouraged to invest in the area to help rebuild Kashmir's economy and tourist industry'' will help bring peace to the State.

There is also a widespread view, held by 80 per cent, that allowing displaced Kashmiri Pandits to return to their homes in safety will help bring about peace.

Views are mixed on the likely impact of ''People in Jammu and Kashmir having the freedom to travel in both directions across the Line of Control''. Those in and around Srinagar and Leh generally feel this would help to bring peace while those in Jammu take the opposite view.

AN overwhelming 92 per cent oppose the State of Kashmir being divided on the basis of religion or ethnicity. There is also overwhelming support - 91 per cent - for a forum in which Kashmiris from both sides of the Line of Control can discuss common interests.

A clear majority - 70 per cent - also support the borders between Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and Indian Kashmir being opened for much more trade and cultural exchange. However, while the views in Srinagar and Leh were very decisive - over 90 per cent support - those in Jammu were much more balanced - 47 per cent support, 53 per cent oppose.

Views are also split on the issue of granting more autonomy to Kashmir. Overall, 55 per cent support ''India and Pakistan granting as much autonomy as they can to both sides of Kashmir to govern their own affairs''. However, while the majority in Srinagar and Leh support this, the majority in Jammu oppose this policy.

There are also mixed views about the role and impact of the Indian security forces. In Srinagar and Leh, at least nine out of ten people believe that security forces scaling down their operations in Jammu and Kashmir would help bring peace, whereas in Jammu opinions are reversed.

There are clearly different perceptions of the behaviour of the Indian security forces. Nobody interviewed in Leh or Jammu believes that human rights violations by Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir are widespread, whereas in Srinagar 64 per cent of the population think they are widespread.

Perceptions are different with respect to human rights violations by militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir. Ninety six per cent of those in Jammu believe that such violations are widespread whereas only 2 per cent of those in Srinagar believe they are widespread (although 33 per cent believe that they are ''occasional'').

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