Voting underway in Pak's quake-scarred Kashmir | india | Hindustan Times
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Voting underway in Pak's quake-scarred Kashmir

india Updated: Jul 11, 2006 13:16 IST

An election for a new legislative assembly began on Tuesday in Pakistan's part of Kashmir, as early voters trickled into prefabricated polling centres, tents and buildings scarred by last October's devastating earthquake.

Campaigning had been inevitably sombre following the quake that killed 73,000 people and destroyed the homes of more than three million people in Pakistani Kashmir and North West Frontier Province.

Soldiers and paramilitary rangers patrolled outside polling stations in Muzaffarabad, where thousands of families still live in tent villages, unable to afford the soaring rents and land prices in the ruined Kashmiri capital.

A slightly delayed start due to arguments between candidates and an election officials over the compulsory showing of national identity cards soured the mood of older voters who spoke of unfulfilled promises of the past, while those casting their vote for the first time were full of youthful optimism.

"After so many years this nation has not realized the importance of time. That is why this country can never prosper," said Syed Ghayasuddin Gillani, 68, the first voter through the doors of a polling centre set up at a women's college.

Azad Kashmir, or Free Pakistan, as Pakistan calls its part of a land divided with India, has always been regarded as a puppet of Islamabad, despite having the trappings of independence, with a president, a prime minister, and its own constitution.

Opposition candidates cried foul on the eve of voting, accusing President Pervez Musharraf of overtly supporting the ruling conservative All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, which is expected to retain power.