Kashmir mulls comprehensive opinion poll

A recent survey in Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir has produced "striking results". The poll was conducted by Robert Bradnock - an associate fellow at the Chatham House think-tank in London - and here he assesses the results.

Indian paramilitary soldiers detain a Kashmiri youth in Srinagar Most Kashmiris yearn for peace

Given the significance of the 63-year-old dispute over Kashmir - for India, for Pakistan and above all for Kashmiris - it is remarkable how few attempts there have been to test opinion in Kashmir itself about attitudes to key issues in the dispute.

Two polls in the last decade have sampled opinion in Indian Jammu and Kashmir. Opinion has also been explored outside Kashmir in the cities of India and Pakistan.

Yet the poll published on 26 May at Chatham House was the first ever to be taken on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC).

Urgently felt

Its key results are striking.

Unemployment and other economic issues, for example, rank high across the whole of Pakistani held Kashmir and Indian held Jammu and Kashmir.

Indeed economic issues were among the few that united opinion in nearly all the sampled districts on both sides of the LoC.

A Jammu and Kashmir Police officer interacts with Village Defence Committee (VDC)  members near Jammu

Start Quote

The poll shows that there is more room than many had anticipated in Kashmiri opinion itself for negotiation. ”

End Quote Robert Bradnock

At first glance economic problems seem to be the top priority in the minds of many Kashmiris, and more important than solving the dispute itself.

Yet when asked how important the dispute was to them personally, 80% overall said it was very important - 75% in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and 82% in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The search for a solution is thus urgently felt.

On many other issues, however, opinions were sharply divided, notably by geographical distribution.

The headline figures of 44% (in Pakistani-administered Kashmir) and 43% (in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir) opting for independence, for example, conceals wide regional disparities.

While in the predominantly Muslim Kashmir Valley in Indian-administered Kashmir, the proportion in favour of independence ranged from 74%-95%.

But in the four districts of the predominantly Hindu Jammu part of Indian-administered Kashmir, there was virtually no support for independence at all.

In response to the question "Will an end to militant violence help to end the conflict?" opinion ranged from 0% in Rajouri to 98% in Anantnag and Kathua, while in Pakistani-administered Kashmir it ranged from 27% in Kotli to 75% in Bagh.

Resolution

This was a professionally designed and implemented poll. I worked with Ipsos MORI (based in London) on the poll's design.

FACTS Worldwide (Mumbai) and Aftab Associates Private Limited (Pakistan) used specially trained interviewers to carry out the face-to-face interviews in four languages.

Protest in Srinagar Many Kashmiris - but not a majority - favour independence

It was funded by a charitable organisation run by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Dr Gaddafi's foundation had already been funding development projects among Kashmiri refugees in Pakistan and India, and in 2002 approached me at King's College London to discuss issues surrounding the resolution of the dispute.

In line with his view that civil society has a vital role to play in resolving disputes worldwide, he sponsored the poll.

Engaging Kashmiri opinion emerged as one of the key features of the poll.

Three quarters of all Kashmiris - on both sides of the LoC - believe that all sides of Kashmiri opinion should be consulted in negotiations over the future of Kashmir.

An optimistic sign is the apparent sense of flexibility among many Kashmiris in seeking a solution.

Only 27% of all Kashmiris are in favour of the LoC in its present form (22% in Pakistani-administered Kashmir and 29% in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.)

All-or-nothing

In three districts in Kashmir valley support for the present LoC falls to 1%, while in Kargil it is 0%.

However, if the movement across the LoC were to be fully liberalised, support for keeping the LoC rises dramatically to 85% overall.

Even in the Kashmir valley it rises to over 80%, and in Pakistani-administered Kashmir to over 90%.

Journalists take cover during a clash in Srinagar (file photo) The Kashmir insurgency has raged for 20 years

It is perhaps the attitudes to the LoC that are most significant.

Both Pakistan and India have been very reluctant to consider openly any question that the LoC might be made permanent.

For Pakistan in particular the issue has been presented in all-or-nothing terms, and the possibility that the LoC might be made permanent has been taboo - as it is for some major Kashmiri groups.

Yet there are many signs that the LoC has become a de facto part of life, and for some a vital part of their security.

Indeed, only 8% said that they were not in favour of the LoC in any form.

As the poll showed, while 8% of the total population claimed to have friends or family on the other side, less than 1% had visited the other side of the LoC in the last five years.

In this light it is not surprising that in Poonch and Rajouri, two key border districts in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, more than 90% are in favour of keeping the LoC.

The conversion of the LoC to a "soft" border reportedly played a large part in the Musharraf government's back channel talks with India.

The poll finding that across Kashmir around one quarter are strongly opposed to changing the LoC while a further half would accept it if it is liberalised gives a strong signal that this could be a fruitful area for further negotiation.

And the poll shows that there is more room than many had anticipated in Kashmiri opinion itself for negotiation.

The bigger question is whether the governments of India and Pakistan have the confidence, the power and the goodwill to meet the urgent aspirations of the Kashmiris for a peaceful and permanent settlement.

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