J&K polls will be free and fair: Vajpayee
23 June 2002
The Times of India
New York: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has said that upcoming elections in Jammu and Kashmir would be ''free and fair'' and ruled out granting autonomy to the state. ''This time elections will be free and fair,'' Vajpayee said in an interview to the Newsweek magazine when asked about allegations that the polls in the past were rigged. On whether autonomy was a long-term solution for Kashmir, the Prime Minister said ''we are for the devolution of power.'' Musharraf, in an interview published in the same issue of the magazine, said he has never given assurances of permanently ending cross-border terrorism. Asked about Musharraf''s promise to get rid of the terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, Vajpayee said, ''that was the promise. There are 50 to 70 terrorist-training camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and in Pakistan.'' The Prime Minister supported US decision to make Pakistan a partner in the war against terror. ''It was the right policy. Pakistan should be pressured to fight terror, not only in Afghanistan but inside Pakistan as well.'' In reply to a question how close India and Pakistan were to the war, Vajpayee said, ''it was a touch-and-go affair... I did not rule out the possibility of war. Until the last minute, we were hoping wiser counsels would prevail.'' On whether al- Qaeda elements are in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Vajpayee said the terrorist organisations operating in Kashmir are closely linked to al-Qaeda and other jehadi groups directly supported by Pakistan. The Prime Minister said leadership of al-Qaeda which the United States has failed to capture ''may be in Pakistan.'' He said he thinks that Osama Bin Laden is alive and that Pakistan knew his whereabouts. Islamabad may not know every movement of Laden and his lieutenants, Vajpayee said adding ''but broadly speaking, they know where the rest of al-Qaeda and the Taliban are.'' To a question about the upcoming elections in Kashmir, the Prime Minister said the elections would be free and fair and held under the Central Election Commission.