Profile of Changing Situation - 1995-96
The government's continued efforts for restoration of the democratic system in the state had ultimately led to the successful conclusion of Lok Sabha and State Assembly Elections. Intensification of inter group clashes and the public mood in favour of peace and normalcy contributed to the creation of a conducive climate for the restoration of democracy. The advent of counter-insurgency groups in J&K since late 1994 put the fundamentalist and secessionist forces led by JEI and HuM on the defensive. The counter-insurgency forces emerged to counter the hegemonistic and oppressive attitude of Hizbul-Mujahideen and JEI and demoralised the prominent pro-Pakistan JEI and HuM leaders and sympathisers. The Media which had till now been unwillingly or willingly toeing the line of militant outfits, began to express opinions fearlessly and displayed independence from militant diktats.
The initiative of four prominent militant leaders to call for an unconditional dialogue with the Government of India for a solution to the Kashmir problem and their subsequent meeting with the Union Home Minister (Delhi, 15 March 1996) and formation of the 'Forum for Permanent Resolution' brought about a change in the situation in the state. Their efforts broke the stalemate by initiating a process of dialogue. They alleged that the KJHC which claimed to be the sole representative of the Kashmiris, had utterly failed in performing the desired role towards the solution of the problem.
The KJHC was crippled by internal dissensions and personality clashes which led to its marginalisation in the public domain. This was made evident by their unsuccessful efforts to stall the political process by mobilising people against the elections. Their dissensions culminated in the suspension (11 August 1996) of Shabir Shah from the Hurriyat executive council, following his defiance of directives against meeting the US envoy Frank Wisner in Srinagar. Pakistani agencies have since been exerting pressures on the Hurriyat leadership to effect a rapproachment with Shabir Shah at any cost. Prof. Abdul Ghani Bhatt and Maulvi Umar Farooq were specifically tasked in this direction, but Shabir Shah exhibited no sign to relent. After the successful conclusion of Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections and formation of a popular government by the NCF under the leadership of Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Hurriyat leaders including A.G. Lone, were making efforts to incite dissensions in the party through their contacts in the NCF, i.e. pressurise Farooq Abdullah on autonomy for the state as per its manifesto. A.G.Lone alleged that the state government was shying away from using its two-third majority in the Assembly to decide the issue. In addition, the KJHC leadership were trying to draw the attention of the UNHRC towards the alleged atrocities on the Kashmiris by Indian security forces.
Under the policy of transparency implemented by the Government of India on Kashmir, several important foreign dignitaries visited J&K. Among the notable visitors were M.H. Khusamadi, Councilor and Abul Fazal Zarie, Second Secretary, Iranian Embassy, New Delhi and Frank Wisner, US Ambassador to India and Senator Hank Brown. This has facilitated greater appreciation of India's view point and international support for the Government of India's effort to restore democracy in the state.
Free and Fair elections for six (6) parliamentary seats in J&K to the eleventh Lok Sabha were concluded successfully in May 1996 despite the KJHC leaders' indefatigable efforts to stall the elections. The voter turnout (57.25%) was good in comparison with the national average and decisively rejected attempts by secessionist forces to disrupt the elections. Of the six PCs in J&K, Cong-I bagged 4 seats- Srinagar, Baramulla, Jammu and Ladakh, while the BJP won the Udhampur seat and the JD won the Anantnag seat. The elections to the tenth Lok Sabha could not be held in 1991 due to the disturbed situation. All the mainstream political parties except the NCF participated in the elections. The NCF did not participate in the elections on the ground that the situation was not conducive for holding elections. It also demanded restoration of 'pre 1953 status' to the state of J&K. The state assembly elections which were held successfully and peacefully in four phases in September 1996, have special significance since the elections were held after a gap of nine years since the last assembly elections (March 1987). This assembly election signalled rejection of the gun culture that was thrust upon the people of Kashmir by Pakistan. The people reaffirmed their faith in the democratic set up of India by a 53.77% voter turnout. Besides, the National Conference and National parties Cong-I, JD, BJP, BSP and Communists also participated in these elections. The number of seats were increased from 76 to 87 under the revised delimitation of constituencies notified in 1995. NCF bagged 57 seats followed by BJP-8, Cong-I -7, JD-5, BSP-4 and 1 each by Panthers Party and the Awami League. Two independent candidates who were elected from Baramulla and Doda, later joined the NCF.
Pakistan's ISI and Pakistan-supported militants made concerted efforts to thwart the political process by increasing violence through alien mercenaries and pro-Pakistan militants. These militants started targeting mainstream political leaders, individuals involved in the democratic system including government officials involved in restoration of democracy, public/electioneering meetings and polling booths. Militants carried out explosions to create panic and fear psychosis among the mass to wean them away from the elections. The ISI chalked out a new strategy after the conclusion of elections to target duly elected peoples' representatives and election campaigners to destabilise the popular government through escalation of violence by pro-Pakistan militants and alien Islamist mercenaries. Under the new strategy of the ISI, militants were laying emphasis on the merger of militant outfits into one formidable group under the aegis of 'Shora-e-Jehad' to give a formidable challenge to the security forces. On the other hand, Pakistani authorities, through KJHC leaders, launched a propaganda campaign to discredit the Farooq Abdullah government, using the autonomy issue and by attacking the electoral process. They also utilised public fora outside J&K to project themselves and their view point.