"I believe in democracy because it releases the energies of every human being." Woodrow Wilson The people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) have once again exercised their right to elect their representatives in the elections that were held not only in the valley, but also across the country. These elections have sent a loud and clear message to the international community and the Indian government that they must listen to reason by allowing the people of occupied Kashmir to express their free will in a transparent and democratic manner. Also, the AJK elections were considered by some analyst to be a kind of a dress rehearsal for the coming general elections in Pakistan. At least the political rhetoric pointed to that direction. In spite of the sharp statements and a few violent scenes, the elections are a triumph for democracy that augers well for the entire country. In case the pro-democratic forces continue to move forward, they will ensure that democracy is strengthened, while those who believe in adventurism will not be provided any cogent reason to trample it. The Indians, who were the main detractors of these elections, may have run out of options to mislead the world by covering up their own dirty ambitions in the region. On the other hand, the time may have come for the international community to exert all the leverage at their command so that the people in the Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) are provided with an opportunity to taste freedom. This can only happen in case the members of the free world, instead of pampering the Indians for the dimes they earn from the Indian market, make good on their promise to support human rights and the right of free expression of will by the Kashmiri people. At present, the Indians have kept 900,000 troops in the disputed valley, who operate under special laws that allow them to subjugate the Kashmiris through brutal force. These special laws have ousted the jurisdiction of the Indian courts, who cannot review cases of brutality committed by the army. At the same time, the Government of Pakistan should agitate more vigorously on behalf of the Kashmiri people in IHK and highlight the issue at every forum available. The Pakistanis can draw some parallel between the US forces in Afghanistan and the Indian army in IHK, because the Americans have agreed to negotiate with the true representatives of the people in the war-torn country. Similarly, diplomatic and moral pressure must be exerted on New Delhi so that it negotiates the withdrawal of the occupation forces with the real representatives of the people in IHK. Therefore, the withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan could be utilised as an opportunity not only to highlight the plight of the Kashmiri people, but also to tell the Indian leadership that the occupation of a state through military force is no more a viable option. And a peaceful solution for the disputed valley can result in an economic bonanza for the entire region allowing them to proceed on the path of progress and prosperity at a much faster pace than what is being achieved by them at present. According to an estimate, a settlement of the Kashmir issue will boost trade tremendously. Therefore, it is not only in the interest of the Kashmiri people that they are allowed to express their will in a free and fair manner, but also the entire region that stands to gain if the Indians listen to reason. Coming back to the AJK elections, it is time that Pakistan revised the present system of voting, especially in areas that fall outside the jurisdiction of the Government of Azad Kashmir since they were also conducted in several cities other than those in AJK, where the Kashmiri settlers were provided with the opportunity to elect their representatives. Since major political parties were actively participating in the Azad Kashmir elections, conditions sometimes got out of hand of the local administration or gave rise to apprehensions that the administration, which is under the influence of a particular government, used its political clout to influence the outcome of the elections to favour their chosen candidates. Under such circumstances, the Kashmiris living outside Azad Kashmirs jurisdiction must be provided the opportunity to exercise their right through a postal ballot, but not through the present system. To overcome this problem, a consensus can easily be achieved if all the major players, who have a stake in the AJK elections, are taken into confidence before the rules of the game are revised. Those who want a change in the present system should highlight the difficulties that have to be endured by everyone in the present scheme of things. In case all the parties agree to revise the present system of voting, which creates sharp polarisation and at times is responsible for lawlessness and chaos, it may result in a better and efficient electoral system for the people of Azad Kashmir. These elections indeed have strengthened the belief of people in democracy, but left a few scars. The postponement of the elections in three constituencies resulted in the boycott of these elections by Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). Keeping this in mind, the PPP is expected to allow some concessions to the MQM that will at least ensure that peace in Karachi and other urban centres is not disturbed to a level where early demise of democracy becomes all but inevitable. Whatever the outcome, efforts are already underway by the ruling party to bring back MQM. Having said that, one thing is certain that the process of elections in Azad Kashmir have indeed succeeded in highlighting the miseries of their brethren in the areas that are under the occupation of the Indian army. But the question is: Is it enough only to highlight the problems of the Kashmiris living on the other side of the divide, or would it be better to launch a more vigorous campaign that would arouse the conscience of the international community so that it takes up the issue of the Kashmiri people with the Indians and the UN resolutions can be implemented? This will only happen, if the Government of Pakistan relentlessly pursues the cause of the Kashmiri people in IHK, even if it means to annoy the Indians and some of its friends. They have not bothered to listen to the voice of a vast majority of the Kashmiris, who have been crying for help for the last several decades. n The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: zarnatta@hotmail.com