The first phase of local civic polls has opened in Indian-controlled Kashmir amid tight security
SRINAGAR, India — The first phase of local civic polls opened in Indian-controlled Kashmir Saturday amid tight security.
Nearly 6 million voters across the disputed region’s 20 districts are eligible to elect 280 members of District Development Councils in a staggered eight-phase process that ends Dec. 19.
Authorities deployed tens of thousands of additional soldiers in the already highly militarized region to guard the vote. Government forces laid razor wire and erected steel barricades on roads around many of the 2,146 polling stations set up for the first phase.
Election Commissioner K.K. Sharma appealed to residents to cast their vote and “participate in the biggest festival of democracy.”
The elected members will have no legislative powers and would be solely responsible for economic development and public welfare of the region.
The Indian government imposed sweeping restrictions, ranging from curfews to communications blackouts, and enacted new laws in measures that triggered widespread anger and economic ruin.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both rivals claim the region in its entirety. Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
New Delhi calls Kashmir militancy Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris call it a legitimate freedom struggle.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.