Indian Congress Party Leader To Be New Kashmir Chief
27 October 2005
New Delhi: A federal minister from India's ruling Congress party will be the new chief minister of Indian Kashmir, in line with a power-sharing pact with a regional party, a Congress spokeswoman said on Thursday. Urban Development Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad will replace Mufti Mohammad Syed of the People's Democratic Party, who took power in the troubled state following a historic state election three years ago. The Congress and the PDP, which run a coalition government in the disputed Himalayan region, had agreed to share power after they ousted the National Conference. 'The Congress president has decided that for the next three years Ghulam Nabi Azad will be sent there under a Congress government,' Congress spokeswoman Ambika Soni told reporters. Azad, 56, who will be sworn in on Nov. 2, said he would pursur the peace process with Pakistan, with which India has fought three wars - two of them over Kashmir. 'I will try to carry forward the peace process,' Azad told reporters. 'In my national perspective of 25-26 years, there's no room for religion or caste.' Analysts said the change in guard, though unexpected at a time of major relief work after the devastating Oct. 8 earthquake, would not affect the peace process in Kashmir. India and Pakistan started the process early last year, hoping to overcome the deep distrust that has existed since their independence in 1947. Indian and Pakistani officials meet in Islamabad on Saturday to discuss how, where and when to open routes for earthquake survivors across the ceasefire line dividing Kashmir. The two governments have been criticised for politicising the Oct. 8 disaster, which killed more than 54,000 people in Pakistan and 1,300 in Indian Kashmir and left millions homeless and destitute. A COMPLEX PROBLEM 'Transfer of power has to be seen separately from the general peace process,' said Noor Ahmed Baba, head of the political science department at Kashmir University. 'Even Mufti did not represent a solution to the problem. The Kashmir issue has several complex dimensions and the state government is just an administrative arrangement.' 'For the peace process to go forward much would depend on the central government's capacity and willingness.' Kashmiris have traditionally considered Congress a Delhi-based party or a party of outsiders and blamed it for most of the state's political problems - which led to the start of a revolt against New Delhi's rule in 1989. Some Kashmiris are likely to see Azad's chief ministership as direct rule by Delhi, something they have disliked all along. 'Azad or Mufti, both are the same for us,' said Sadiq Ali, a shopkeeper in the state's summer capital, Srinagar. 'But in the hour of crisis they should have left Mufti to continue for some more time.'