India has announced that it will hold state elections in Indian administered Kashmir starting in September. Prominent Kashmiri separatist leaders have indicated they will not participate in the polls.
India's Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh says state elections in Kashmir will be staggered over three weeks starting September 16. The second phase would start September 24, the third phase October 1, and the fourth phase on October 8, he announced. Vote counting is expected to be complete by October 12.
The election has been staggered so that elaborate security arrangements can be in place to prevent Islamic rebels from disrupting the polls in the violence-wracked region.
Election Commissioner Lyndogh expressed confidence the elections will be what he called "good and credible."
India is hoping the state elections will boost the legitimacy of its rule in the disputed region, where a Muslim separatist insurgency has raged since 1989, and which is at the heart of the conflict between India and Pakistan.
New Delhi has promised a peaceful and fair election process. Officials hope the vote will persuade moderate Kashmiri separatist leaders to take part in the polls, and voters to turn out in large numbers.
But the threat of boycotts and violence looms large over the election. Even before the dates were announced, Islamic militant groups had called for a boycott of the polling, and several separatist leaders had indicated they would not take part in the polls.
Kashmir's main separatist alliance, the All Parties Huriyat Conference said Friday the elections would provide no solution to the future of the Himalayan territory. Huriyat Chairman, Abdul Gani Bhat told Indian television their position is unchanged. "We do not seek a desk in the assembly," he said. "We seek a seat on the table for peaceful settlement of the dispute on Jammu and Kashmir. Our position is what it is. The elections provide no answer."
Another separatist leader, Shabir Shah, ruled out taking part in the elections, saying a "meaningful dialogue must be started first."
Meanwhile, New Delhi says it will not allow international election monitors, but says foreign nationals including diplomats and journalists are welcome to watch the polls in Kashmir.
The last state elections held in Kashmir were marred by reports of soldiers forcing unwilling Kashmiris to vote. The present state government in the region is led by a pro-Indian party, the National Conference.