By Cathy Nugent
Tensions could rise again between Pakistan and India over the disputed territory of Kashmir, as elections for Kashmir's regional Assembly take place this month.
Four separate polls will be held between 16 September and 8 October. At the beginning of September jihadi-separatist groups killed civilians, police and government in several attacks - these groups are boycotting the elections as they - and other Kashmiri separatists - do not believe Kashmir should be part of the Indian Union. The jihadists are also threatening violence against people who do participate in the elections - although it is difficult to judge how serious the level of intimidation is.
The elections have also brought to a head divisions within the Kashmiri separatist movement. The main separatist umbrella organisation The All Party Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference will not be participating and has pledged to run an anti-election, propaganda campaign. The Hurriyat incorporates over 20 different political groups, some secular, some Islamists as well as some social and workers' organisations. Some people from one of its most important political parties - the Peoples Conference - are standing in the elections and those people have been expelled from their party.
Participation in this election may be higher than previous ones (the last was held in 1997) although that expectation may be largely Indian government propaganda. Whatever, it is likely that the Hurriyat is feeling under some pressure to take a more "respectable" stance than usual.
These tensions reflect the two big divisions within Hurriyat: over whether Kashmir should accede to Pakistan or form an independent "greater" Kashmir and over whether the Kashmiri question is primarily a religious one (coming from the pro-Pakistan elements), or a political one.
Meanwhile, members of the Indian political establishment have formed a "Kashmir Committee", a body to conduct dialogue with Kashmiri separatists. The Hurriyat and the more explicitly secular Democratic Freedom Party have participated in the Committee. The Hurriyat has said it is willing to conduct talks with the Pakistani Such initiatives are not new. This time the Indian government - which is tacitly supporting the initiative - will hope to use it to put further pressure on Pakistan to act against the jihadi-terrorist groups operating inside the Pakistani-controlled parts of Kashmir.
Both the peace initiative and the Assembly elections will be destabilised if the jihadi groups, as seems likely, keep up their attacks on Kashmiri civilians. Some of these attacks are horribly indiscriminate - both Hindus and Muslims have been killed. A proper democratic procedure ensuring Kashmiri self-determination including rights for minorities required, but that is not what is at stake in these elections.