An extreme ethno-nationalist government with religious overtones shuts down regional media and arrests journalists in a bid to cool down a simmering Islamist insurgency. Is it Iraq? Egypt, perhaps? Try India. After years of relative quiet, the conflict in Kashmir grows louder. The FT:
Authorities in India-controlled Kashmir have clamped down on the media, shutting newspapers and television stations as they try to control the violence that has flared in the region following the death of a rebel separatist commander last week.
More than 40 people have been killed and more than 1,000 injured since Burhan Wani, a 22-year-old Kashmiri separatist, was killed by security forces on July 8. The region has already been placed under curfew and mobile internet services have been suspended.
In what is being described as an unprecedented move, Kashmiri authorities at the weekend shut down cable television news channels and raided newspapers such as Rising Kashmir, Greater Kashmir, Kashmir Images and Kashmir Times.
Online reports by the affected publications described police arresting employees and seizing tens of thousand of physical copies to prevent papers reaching newsstands.
Wani was the commander of a separatist militia; at his funeral, his comrades-in-arms fired off a 21-gun salute. The Prime Minister of Pakistan has since called the young man a “martyr,” while many Indian officials describe him as a terrorist. It seems that Wani has all the makings of a Che Guevara figure; his cult of personality may grow even stronger after his death. As the FT reported last week:
Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, warned that Mr Wani’s death had created a “new icon” for disaffected Kashmiri youth. “Mark my words — Burhan’s ability to recruit into militancy from the grave will far outstrip anything he could have done on social media,” he tweeted.
Kashmiri authorities (acting on behalf of the region’s governor, a Hindu civil servant) are clearly worried that Wani’s death will upset the delicate equilibrium in the region. Ever since 2010, the conflict’s death toll has substantially declined. Diplomatic overtures between New Delhi and Islamabad have been extended several times in the relative calm of the past few years, but nothing like a sustained peace effort has emerged.
And now, more than 40 are dead and thousands nurse injuries sustained in the last ten days. Newspapers and cable news stations are temporarily closed. (Good thing this didn’t happen on the West Bank or the world media would be incandescent!) The violence of the last two weeks is only one story out of a geopolitical hotspot that doesn’t seem to get much coverage in the Western press—but also an important reminder that this problem is nowhere near solved.