Back in 2010, when Kashmir was simmering and ready to erupt during what was one of the longest street agitations in the Valley, a poll by a London-based organisation said the Muslim-majority region favoured independence from both India and Pakistan.
The poll by Chatham House, the first on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), showed that between 75 to 95 percent Kashmiris supported freedom.
A similar poll now might throw up surprise results in the Valley, bristling with anger over alleged excesses by security forces while battling stone-pelting protesters since the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani.
Today, a cricket match can throw the Valley’s premier engineering college out of gear for days. With 10 slogans for ‘azadi’, a few might be raised in support of Pakistan. Pro-azadi graffiti in Srinagar’s old city may have a few lines praising Pakistan as well. Some shops with green shutters could also sport Pakistan’s symbols of crescent and moon painted overnight.
Experts feel the Pakistani flag, which was just used as an “irritant” by the youth earlier, has now become the “symbol of resistance”, returning to the street protests since Wani’s killing on July 8. Pakistan has also made a comeback to the people’s collective consciousness. Around 2 lakh people attended the slain militant commander’s funeral -- his body wrapped in a Pakistani flag.
It is not a coincidence that after decades a section of Kashmiri youth is planning to celebrate Pakistan’s Independence Day in the Valley.
While the phenomenon was seen in the early years of militancy in 1990s, it was mostly restricted to militants and their overground workers.
This time, however, the mood has changed.
Experts say the phenomenon shows anger among the youth against India.
“The majority is not with Pakistan but apathy and insensitivity from India is forcing them to look towards Pakistan,” said senior journalist Sheikh Mushtaq.
He said the outcome of the parliament debate and the all-party meeting on Kashmir will “further alienate” the Kashmiri youth.
“When the Indian administration is not recognising their (the Kashmiris’) sentiments and calling the agitation sponsored, they feel Pakistan is the only country talking about the atrocities (by Indian forces),” he added.
The ruling BJP-PDP combine is seen as an “unsympathetic government”.
“The BJP says Pakistan has the capacity of getting two lakh people for a militant’s funeral. It means that the country is more powerful than those ruling us. With 8 lakh security personnel (deployed by India), if Pakistan is managing so much then India has no business being here,” said a Srinagar resident who did not want to be named.
“They are giving Pakistan the credit where it is not even due.”
Mainstream political parties, too, feel that Kashmiris are being ignored.
“I wish MPs pushing for another all-party delegation had been this keen about pushing the implementation of the earlier one’s recommendations. At the very least they could have ensured the tabling of the report of the J&K interlocutors in Parliament,” former chief minister Omar Abdullah said after the meeting.
People feel that economic packages can be no solution and the government has to accept the “political nature of the problem”.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Kashmir chapter, which refused to meet Union home minister Rajnath Singh last month, dismissed the government’s outreach programme.
“We have said before that economic packages are no solution…the PM spoke after more than a month, he offered nothing political,” said Fayaz Punjabi, executive member of the body.
He said that the meeting, instead of talking about Kashmir, said atrocities in Balochistan and PoK need to be highlighted.
“Pakistan is surely playing its game, but for Kashmiris, sympathy with Pakistan has become a way of expressing their anger. It’s like if you want to irritate an enemy, be friends with your enemy’s enemy,” said said Mushtaq.