India-held Kashmir saw a whole population rising against the state last summer in the form of large demonstrations, demanding the right to self-determination.
It all started when Burhan Wani, a popular rebel commander, was shot dead by the Indian forces in a village in southern Kashmir on July 8. Wani had become a hero for the new generation as they want a solution to the lingering Kashmir dispute. While Wani himself was from southern Kashmir’s Tral area, the ‘new age’ militancy run by local youths is also centred in the region and the summer uprising was also intense in this part of the Valley.
Why was the held state’s south the epicentre of this uprising and the ‘new age’ militancy has been a question for long. To find some answers, Dawn spoke to someone who has been instrumental in religious and political reform in the region, Qazi Ahmed Yasir, the Chairman of Ummat-i-Islami Jammu Kashmir and Mirwaiz of South Kashmir. He shed light on the ‘new age’ militancy, the Kashmir issue, the summer uprising and its popularity in south Kashmir. During the four months of the uprising, Mirwaiz Qazi Yasir was put under detention and released only after the situation had calmed down to some extent.
How do you look at this summer’s uprising that was centred in southern Kashmir?
The south has always played an important role in shaping up the political discourse in Kashmir. There are people who say that the struggle against the Dogra rule started in 1931, but I believe that it began in the south in 1925 when Qazi Qamaruddin defied a Dogra order against a mosque and led an agitation against them.
Similarly, in 1987 the Muslim United Front was inspired by an alliance formed in the south. In 1990 militancy started here, then even resistance to the militancy began here in 1995 and the 2008 agitation started from here as well. So it is no surprise to me that this region is spearheading the current wave of agitation.
There is an apprehension that after Burhan Wani’s killing and the protests, the youth are taking up arms. Do you agree and if so, to what extent?
This is a cause of worry for one and all. Due to the rigidity of the political system and inability to deal with and address the issues, I fear you will see this phenomenon rising. But I don’t think things will get out of hand because most Kashmiris believe in a peaceful resolution of the issue. But the circumstances are pushing the youth towards militancy.
Was south Kashmir the focus of this year’s uprising because militancy has been strong here and Burhan Wani hailed from this region?
These are two different phenomena and I do not think they affect each other. There was a time when militancy was strong in the north too, but it was never in the forefront. I believe south has always led the anti-India movement because it is sensitive to politics.
How much impact do you think religion has had on the protests and youth picking up guns?
I believe religion doesn’t encourage us to pick up arms except in some extreme cases. I think religion has been misused and exploited by some elements to induce people to take up arms. So it is important to understand that some pre-requisites need to be fulfilled before launching an armed struggle against any nation.
Do you see an internal divide between pro-freedom parties and common people on the issue of how a movement should be carried ahead?
There are disagreements, and consequently divisions, amongst proponents of every cause, but those disagreements should not divert people from the real objective. In Kashmir we forget the real objective and limit ourselves to outwitting each other.
Today’s youth and the older generation are not on the same page over methods of protest. Do you see a new leadership emerging out of the pro-freedom ideologies?
Disagreements are always there in thought and action between the young and the old. The old want to see an organised and effective movement while the youth expect quick results. This expectation makes them do things in a way which alienates many people. This is where the leadership should temper the volatility of the young ones by teaching them the virtue of patience.
How do you read the future, especially in the south?
Peace in Kashmir is fragile. The issues need to be addressed as soon as possible. India and Pakistan should look at the problem from the Kashmiri perspective and try to resolve other issues between them in consultation with Kashmiris. Only then then there will be lasting peace in the region.
Published in Dawn January 4th, 2017