Kashmir: Selfie war against Indian crackdown

Kashmir: Selfie war against Indian crackdown
Commandos of Jammu & Kashmir Police force march during their passing out parade at Sheeri, 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of Srinagar, India, on Monday. (AP)
Updated 24 May 2016

Kashmir: Selfie war against Indian crackdown

Kashmir: Selfie war against Indian crackdown

TRAL, India: Rebels like Burhan Wani, more adept at spreading their message via smartphone than wielding an assault rifle, are becoming a rallying point in disputed Kashmir for youth who reject the authority of India’s federal government.
Wani, a 22-year-old commander of separatist group Hizb-ul Mujahideen, personifies a new generation of militant who is winning public sympathy in a battle that once again risks destabilizing the troubled northern region.
“He is on a pious path and we are proud of him,” said Mohammad Muzaffar Wani, the father of the militant who shot to notoriety with pictures of his group on social media last year, along with speeches calling Kashmiris to arms. “All of Kashmir supports his cause,” Wani, the headmaster of a school, said in an interview at the family home in Tral in southern Kashmir.
A massive crackdown by Indian security forces has contained a separatist revolt in Kashmir that first flared in the 1990s, with Pakistan’s backing, but is now mainly homegrown.
But the backlash it has provoked reflects what many Kashmiris call the refusal of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-year-old government to engage in a meaningful dialogue over the fate of India’s only Muslim-majority region.
“The government of India has decided that they want to engage with the problem militarily, not politically,” said Mirwais Umar Farooq, a hereditary religious leader and advocate of a peaceful path to independence.
Separatist leaders accuse New Delhi of keeping people in Kashmir, long the center of a bitter territorial dispute between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan, under the heel of up to 750,000 security forces.
At the same time, they say, it is pursuing a long-term strategy to effectively annex the region of 12.5 million people demographically, religiously and economically.
The result, both moderate and hard-line separatists warn, will be the further radicalization of a generation already brutalized by a crackdown on a wave of street protests that peaked in 2010.
“It’s troubling — there should not be this level of alienation,” said Naeem Akhtar, the state’s education minister and a leader of the People’s Democratic Party, that has run Jammu and Kashmir in an unlikely coalition with Modi’s Hindu-centric Bharatiya Janata Party since last year.
“We should try and build emotional bonds between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the country,” added Akhtar. “It will take time, but I think we are on course.”
Both parties say their alliance of opposites is working, but their development agenda — including a road building campaign to upgrade infrastructure ruined by decades of neglect — has yet to deliver.