NEW DELHI, April 17: A majority of Kashmiris, asked to choose between staying with India or going to Pakistan or becoming an independent country, have supported the latter, a rare opinion poll carried out in the Valley and published by the Times of India on Sunday said. According to the poll conducted by Synovate India, a market research agency, 53.9 per cent of the respondents in Srinagar and Rajouri chose independence.

A staggering 77 per cent of those polled in five metros — Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad — and 55 per cent of respondents in Srinagar and Rajouri think the de facto position of the Line of Control as the effective border should be made de jure as well.

“Considering that the poll in J&K was restricted to Kashmiri Muslims, that’s a revealing reflection of the popular mood,” the Times said.

The poll also shows all too clearly that public opinion, whether in Jammu and Kashmir or elsewhere, is solidly behind the idea of the border being ‘soft’.

Thus, there is massive support for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service with 80 per cent in the metros and 92 per cent in Jammu and Kashmir backing the idea.

There is also a widespread recognition that any talks between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue must involve representatives of the Kashmiris too. This is not just the opinion within Jammu and Kashmir, where 84 per cent of all those polled backed the idea; three-fourths of respondents in the five cities also said they were in favour of it.

This was consolation for the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. Neither in the metros nor, most crucially, among Kashmiri Muslims is it seen as a legitimate representative of the Kashmiri people.

This should worry the Hurriyat because about 60 per cent of those polled in the state were from Srinagar, claimed to be a stronghold of the multi-party outfit. In fact, barely 16 per cent of the Kashmiris felt the Hurriyat represents them better than the state government.

The poll carried out on the eve of the visit by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf concludes by saying that “if there is one thing that comes across clearly from the survey, it is that more than 15 years of violence and bloodshed have been unable to rob Kashmiris of hope and they retain a positive outlook”.

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