Young Kashmiri activists yearn for an ‘Arab Spring’ - and more Western attention
US support for Arab uprisings is reinvigorating a drive among Kashmiri youth for independence. But they want to accomplish it peacefully.
Srinagar, India-controlled Kashmir
Ask Kashmiris about the uprisings in the Middle East and their frustration shows.Skip to next paragraph
Rashid, a young computer professional, recalls how he joined last summer's street marches for freedom, survived India's police crackdown that killed 117 protesters, and watched as the events got only a sliver of the coverage now given to countries like Libya.
But as the winter snows recede from the circling Himalayan peaks, residents living among the barracks and barbed wire that attest to India's heavy presence here wonder if a touch of the Arab Spring might blossom in Kashmir. Such a development could attract the international attention that they argue is desperately needed for peace.
"In Tunisia and Egypt, behind the success of these revolutions is only media. We want international media to cover our issues because we know the results of peaceful protests in [Egypt's] Tahrir Square," says Rashid, who uses a false name out of fear of detention and torture.
What Kashmir's young independence activists most want the world to grasp is that the protracted fight for Kashmir has broken from its roots in a territorial tug of war between India and Pakistan. Instead, it has become an independence movement led by the two-thirds of Kashmiris who are under age 30 and fed up with living in a police state.
Particularly of interest to world powers, they say, should be their resolve to resist without guns.
But while US support for Arab uprisings is reinvigorating hopes among Kashmiris, whose persistence complicates US efforts to draw closer to India and win more cooperation from Pakistan, it is also sharpening longstanding disappointment.
The US role
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the imposing octogenarian leader of Kashmir's separatist movement, minces no words, chiding the United States for what he sees as its shortcomings on Kashmir. For half a century, Mr. Geelani has been involved in the struggle, and remembers how the US sponsored the first United Nations resolution calling for Kashmiri self-determination. In recent years, however, Washington has courted New Delhi as a rising power – and dropped its public pressure, at least, over Kashmir. In March, Timothy Roemer, US ambassador to India, visited Kashmir but declined to meet separatist leaders.
"You have seen in Egypt only 17 days of strikes. And we are doing strikes since 1947 ... and you good people, pious people, very intelligent people, very moderate people, and very prosperous people, you have not taken notice," he says in an interview at his home, where some dozen Indian police keep him under house arrest.
Still, he takes a very long view of what he sees as the current, unpromising diplomatic calculus. "Superpowers are not forever superpowers," he reminds.
The US has played an active role in restarting talks between India and Pakistan that began March 28. And Geelani's younger counterpart among the separatist leadership, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, sees more immediate signs of change. At conferences in the West since the Arab uprisings, he says, people approach him about Kashmir.