New Delhi, Sept. 14: Chief minister Farooq Abdullah today said the assassination of his Cabinet colleague Mushtaq Ahmed Lone not only sent shock waves through the state but had also signalled Pakistan’s determination to disrupt peaceful elections in Kashmir.
Appearing shaken but determined to carry on with the election campaign, Abdullah addressed the media in the capital for the first time after the killing of his close confidant.
Despite terrorist warnings to boycott the Assembly elections, people had ignored the threats and showed a degree of enthusiasm, especially in rural areas, that delighted New Delhi. Rallies and political meetings in the Valley were well attended and expectations of a 40-45 per cent turnout was being privately aired by officials in Delhi. But Lone’s assassination has cast a shadow on the elections.
Now, even Abdullah does not want to speculate on the turnout. “I don’t know if the percentage will be high or low, but it really does not matter. The issue is Assembly elections will be held whatever the provocation,” the chief minister said.
With the election campaign for the first phase coming to an end, Abdullah said it was a “bloody phase” that saw the murder of a number of candidates and several seriously injured.
On a determined note he added: “We will not bend and bow whatever the circumstances. Pakistan can do its damnest to disrupt the polls, but we are as determined to carry on.”
Holding Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf personally responsible for the violence in Kashmir, Abdullah accused him of being “directly involved in disrupting the polls in the state, while in previous Assembly elections the Pakistani regime was not putting a full thrust on sabotaging the democratic exercise”.
Musharraf’s speech at the UN General Assembly in New York, clearly spelled out Pakistan’s stand that elections in the Valley were a farce and had nothing to do with the final solution of the dispute over Kashmir. Ironically, the Hurriyat leaders keep repeating the same line.
Abdullah said he had no objections to diplomats travelling to Srinagar to get a ringside view of the polls. “I will welcome them. Let them see how Pakistan-backed terrorists are opening fire on the common man, let them see for themselves the rogue state they are supporting.”
The National Conference leader’s anger was palpable. Lone is said to have been a personal favourite of the chief minister and his killing appears to have brought home once again the dangers that face the candidates each day.
The lax security at Lone’s campaign meet in Kupwara’s Tekipora village has also added to the administration’s woes.
Not a single shot was fired at the lone gunman who rained bullets on the law minister as soon as he had stepped out of his bullet-proof car. The terrorist found his target despite the tight contingent of well-armed security guards forming a ring around Lone and even escaped though the entire periphery of the meeting ground was manned by security personnel.
These are questions worrying not just Abdullah but also the Centre. The day after the killing, defence minister George Fernandes flew out to Srinagar for a meeting of the unified command. The fact that Lone’s assassin could escape with impunity reveals serious loopholes in the security arrangement.
The meeting of the unified command discussed the lapse in security and certain steps have been implemented to breach the gaps. However, no official was willing to elaborate on the details.