MUZAFFARABAD, July 29: Kashmir’s dominant freedom fighter group, Hizbul Mujahideen, on Monday offered a guarded response to US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit to New Delhi and Islamabad, declaring that it would not change its stand on the proposed polls in the disputed Himalayan region.

“We welcome Mr Powell’s announcement in New Delhi that Kashmir is an international issue. It has exposed India’s false propaganda and claim on Kashmir. But as far as his stand on the forthcoming farcical exercise (elections) in the occupied territory is concerned, we disagree with him,” said Hizb’s Salim Hashmi.

Mr Powell told a news conference in Islamabad on Sunday that polls in the Indian held Kashmir “would be the first step” towards resolving the dispute.

But Hashmi told Dawn by telephone that “we are fully convinced that elections can in no way lead to the solution of Kashmir problem. India is holding them to form a local administration in the occupied territory and the exercise has nothing to do with the settlement of the longstanding dispute. We have rejected the polls in the past and we reject them this time as well.”

The Hizb’s spokesman said India claimed itself to be the largest democracy, but it had always denied to the people of Kashmir their democratic right.

“India has itself confessed that the previous elections in Kashmir were not fair and is claiming in an abortive attempt to lure the Kashmiris into voting that the forthcoming polls would be fair. But we make it clear that we are least concerned about the polls, whether they are free, fair or fraudulent.”

Mr Hashmi noted that the UN Security Council had also made it clear in its resolution of January 24, 1957 that “the final disposition of the J&K state will be made in accordance with the will of the people expressed through the democratic method of a free and impartial plebiscite conducted under the auspicious of the United Nations.”

He said, “We are concerned about the provision of that opportunity to the Kashmiris to decide their future with free will and the very thing has been pledged to us by the world community long ago.”

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