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No sooner had election results for the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly and the Pakistan national and provincial assemblies been declared in the first half of October, than the American press and audiovisual media went into overdrive transmitting two major misnomers which are at total odds with reality. One was that "pro-India parties" have suffered a setback in J&K and the second was that religious fundamentalist parties have raised their hood in Pakistan to weaken General Musharraf's assistance to the US in the war on terrorism. Both results were portrayed as major "shocks" to the Indian and Pakistani ruling establishments and as harbingers of unimagined change and flux. I will take up both cases and point out that this interpretation of elections cannot get any further from truth.
J&K elections were certified by all neutral and international observers as absolutely free and fair, without a trace of fraud or coercion. Claims from the Pakistani propaganda machine that elections were "heavily rigged" and that voters were "dragged out of their homes" by Indian security men fell flat when irregularities were alleged in specific constituencies which did not even go to polls in one particular phase! What was lacking or underplayed in American reportage during all four phases was the absolute transparency and justice underlying the electoral process. CNN chose to concentrate on the "angry mood of Kashmiris" who did not join the election process, i.e. the discredited Hurriyat Conference, and ignored the unprecedented high turnout of common Kashmiris who defied election-disrupting and mass-killing jihadis sponsored by Pakistan.
The real hogwash commenced after results started pouring in. Painting the defeat of the ruling National Conference as a loss of pro-India forces in Kashmir is a grotesque distortion of facts. Several American dailies had correspondents on the ground writing columns to the effect that Farooq Abdullah's National Conference was aligned with the ruling BJP in India's national parliament and ergo, NC's loss could be equated with the defeat of the voices in Kashmir that wanted to remain as part of India. It was a very jejune conclusion, because I would be called jejune if Al Gore won California state when George Bush won the Presidency and had I claimed that California had turned anti-American.
Do American reporters in Kashmir equate BJP with India? How is it that the resounding success of the main national opposition, Congress, in the J&K elections was not at all highlighted? Is the Congress party under Ghulam Nabi Azad, which won 20 seats, not pro-India? Suppose a narrow parochial view of compartmentalising results in terms of Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh were taken, then the People's Democratic Party of Mufti Sayeed was definitely the 'winner' with 16 seats in the valley, but can PDP be any more anti-India than NC? One of Mufti Sayeed's campaign barbs was that NC was responsible for the increase of jihadi terrorism in Kashmir and that he would "heal these wounds."
The Abdullah dynasty has had a very chameleonic relationship with India for five decades, however much Pakistan would like to believe that they are "puppets" of New Delhi foisted upon Kashmiris. Farooq, the outgoing J&K Chief Minister, is a chip off the old block and a diehard fan of self and family. Before starting his long tenure as chief minister, when it appeared that New Delhi may not support him, he hobnobbed with the newborn Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front of Amanullah Khan which aimed at "establishing an Independent Kashmir" through violent means. In 1974, Farooq visited Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir and attended the JKLF convention at Mirpur, where he took the vow for "liberation of Kashmir from India", according to Azzam Inquilabi and Hashim Qureshi, two experienced Islamic militants who were associated with Farooq in those days.
Farooq's policies of Islamisation and selective nurturing of mujahideen outfits while in power were justified as a 'secular' Chief Minister's bid to placate radicals, just as his father Sheikh Abdullah's communal anti-minority policies of "Muslimising" administration and police were. Father and son together laid the foundation for progressive waves of disenfranchisement and religious cleansing of Hindus and Sikhs from Kashmir. Farooq Abdullah, whom American reporters consider pro-India, is the same person who has at various junctures demanded restoration of pre-1953 autonomy to Kashmir as a first step to total independence, a Resettlement Act which allows Muslims from PoK to come and own properties in J&K but not Kashmiri Pandits, and even azadi couched in sly language. In the words of former J&K governor Jagmohan, Farooq and his cohorts are the worst kinds of subversionists who "champion the cause of terrorists." (My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir p.368). Now that they have been kicked out of power, I can place all my bets on Farooq and his son, Omar, shifting gear and organising open anti-India agitations and colluding with their former friends in Pakistan and the Hurriyat.
Is NC's ouster a loss or a gain for India? American media must rethink.
Moving on to Pakistan, the EU observer mission in the recent national elections issued damning condemnations of pre-poll restrictions and the actual polling process as "seriously flawed.". The gist of all international monitors was that General Musharraf micro-managed every aspect of the election, including candidates, their victory and loss margins, their leaderships and their respective parties' performance and bargaining power in the new provincial and national assemblies. Strangely, while BBC and some British papers carried headlines about the mockery of democracy for the umpteenth time in Pakistan, American dailies kept it on a low keel and preferred to express wonder at the extraordinary success of the religious conglomerate, Muttahida-Majlis-i-Amal.
A lot of news-reading Americans and lawmakers had known by October 10 that MMA opposed US airbases in the NWFP and Balochistan and that its leaders are pro-Taliban and Al Qaeda. What they did not know and were never told was that General Musharraf immediately telephoned the MMA chief, Qazi Hussain Ahmad of the fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami, and "felicitated" him on the achievement of the deeni parties. Benazir Bhutto, a magnifico at understanding the reality behind Islam-pasand outfits by virtue of being the "mother of Taliban" (Hamid Mir), has accurately termed MMA a "frightening genie" and a "red rag to the bull" released by Musharraf himself to further consolidate his American backing.
The evidence is all too clear. MMA got more spot time on Pakistan's state-owned TV and more clandestine funding from the ISI than all other parties except Musharraf's own 'King's Party', the PML (Q), in the run-up to the elections. Pakistan's interior minister Moinuddin Haider even inadvertently let it slip out on BBC radio that these groups "had to do well." (emphasis original) After the elections, the same MMA is acting 'pragmatic' in the 'national interest' by adopting a gradual thaw towards America. What American news readers are not being told is that MMA has 'agreed' to allow broad continuation of Musharraf's American agenda (Najam Sethi of Friday Times is certain MMA will not "cross limits"), but has resolved that "no compromise can be made on Kashmir."
In other words, this Musharraf-created bogey will not expand safe haven for Al Qaeda and Taliban in western Pakistan but their brothers-in-arms in PoK and Indian Kashmir. The reaffirmation of faith in jihad and madrassa education by MMA has little hurtful consequences for America, because Musharraf will use them as barking dogs who do not bite Uncle Sam, but as biting dogs who will gnaw at India. MMA will also be a useful handmaiden of Musharraf to showcase as people's choice and public opinion in favour of "liberating" Kashmir from India and that he cannot go back on his own people's mandate. I ask again: is the MMA's victory really a 'shock' or loss for Pakistan's rulers? American media must rethink, scrape beneath the surface and carry out in-depth study of politics in South Asia to educate its people sounder and inform its rulers better.
[Sreeram Chaulia is Columnist for Asia Times, Hong Kong.]