‘Groups like ISIS have got no public support in Kashmir’

July 15, 2018

Zafar Meraj is a Kashmir-based senior journalist and political commentator. He is the founder editor of Kashmir Monitor and has reported from Kashmir for many leading Indian news organisations.

Q. The incidents of violence have alarmingly increased in Kashmir valley in past two years since the killing of young rebel commander Burhan Wani. What reasons do you attribute to this resurgence of armed rebellion against Indian rule in Kashmir?

A: There always has been a good section of population that questions the state’s accession with India and demands right to self-determination to choose the political destination of the state. This idea has all along been there and got further strengthened with the armed struggle launched in early 1990s. New Delhi is aware of all this and has been trying to contain the situation. But unfortunately, it has failed to address the problem on the political front and more emphasis has been given to the military approach. The result is further alienation of Kashmiris from India. Burhan Wani had emerged as a poster boy of the new-age resistance and his death at the hands of forces aggravated the situation.

Q. Many young and educated Kashmiris have in recent years joined the armed movement against Indian rule in Kashmir, and it has become a largely indigenous movement now. What do you think drove these young men towards this path?

A: Most of these youth have in one way or the other been victims of ‘state terror’ and they also see no future in India especially with the rise of right wing forces in the country.  

Q. Pakistan seems to have in recent years put Kashmir on the backburner. Even in the ongoing campaign for general election, we haven't heard much about Kashmir from political parties. Do you think they still have a policy on Kashmir?

A: Unfortunately Pakistan has got caught in a political mess with future of democracy and rule of law becoming uncertain with every passing day. The very existence of the political leadership in that country is at stake and to save themselves they have evidently ‘downgraded’ Kashmir as seen in recent election rallies. However, this all has not deterred the pro-Pakistan lobby in Kashmir. One sees green Pakistani flags prominently displayed at pro-militant gatherings and funerals.

Q. Recently, BJP pulled out of an alliance with PDP in Kashmir, leaving power vacuum in the troubled state. Do you think it was a 'marriage of inconvenience' in the first place? Should PDP have joined the alliance with a party that is seen as fiercely majoritarian and anti-Muslim?

A. It was an unholy alliance of two pro-India parties having nothing common in their political thought for Kashmir. This alliance was doomed and people here are happy that it ended sooner.

Q. There has been a rebellion in PDP following the imposition of governor's rule in Jammu & Kashmir. What led to this rebellion and do you think they can stitch together an alliance with BJP to form next government as is being reported in media?

A. I don’t give much credence to this ‘rebellion’. Some political opportunists have got addicted to power and they don’t want to leave it. Most of the ‘rebels’ lack any political ideology or for that matter a strong base among the masses.

Q. Recently, a prominent journalist and editor was killed by unidentified gunmen outside his office in Kashmir. There have been such incidents in the past too. Do you believe it has become increasingly difficult for journalists in Kashmir to report freely and fearlessly?

A. It was a gruesome murder that has created a big void in Kashmir’s media fraternity. The killers are at large and no one knows why and who killed him. Admittedly, his murder has further added to the uncertainty and insecurity among the journalists here.

Q. There have been reports about ISIS trying to gain foothold in Kashmir and we have even seen their flag fluttering at militant funerals. According to you, is the presence of ISIS in Kashmir a reality or a myth?

A. I don’t think groups like ISIS have got any public support in Kashmir. No doubts ISIS flags are sometime seen in the hands of agitating youth but that looks more to mock at the State than having any faith in its ideology.

Q. The dialogue between India and Pakistan over Kashmir has failed to make headway. Do you see any possibility of these two estranged neighbors coming together to resolve this longstanding dispute as per the aspirations of the people of Kashmir?

A. With BJP, which has extreme views about Kashmir, in power in India and the widespread instability in Pakistan, there seems to be very little chance of any positive dialogue between the two countries to resolve the longstanding dispute.

Q. Do you think Kashmir gets less coverage in the international media compared to other conflict zones like Palestine, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan?

A. It gets coverage only when there is some major incident of violence. Very few people have been writing or discussing about the genesis of the problem and any serious move to impress upon two countries to sit across the table and resolve it.

Q. U.S. recently pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and asked all countries to stop oil imports from Iran. India also seems to have buckled under the U.S. pressure. What's the general sense in Kashmir over the American policy of war-mongering, sabre-rattling and bullying other nations?

A. U.S. has never had good reputation in Kashmir and since Donald Trump assumed power, his anti-Muslim policies and his dealings with Muslim countries have come for strong criticism in Kashmir.

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