“Kashmir can survive as an independent nation,” Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview on Saturday.
“Much smaller places are surviving as nations, why can’t we?” he added.
With thousands demanding azadi (freedom) and even National Conference president Omar Abdullah voicing his support for a debate on “independence” for the state, the Mirwaiz said the voice of the people must be heard.
“It is not merely a slogan on the streets; we have discussed this internally and looked at its viability. We will be a vibrant independent nation,” the Hurriyat Conference chief said.
“Indian people have been misled… that Pakistan is behind everything in Kashmir,” he said, adding, “Even people like Omar Abdullah have come to realise the ground realities.”
The vast majority of people in the ‘Azad Kashmir’ area is Mirpuri and Pahari-speaking. Culturally, they are closer to people residing in Rajouri, Poonch districts in Jammu and the border belt of Kupwara and Baramullah districts in the Valley.
But despite the religious affinity, ethnic tensions are high. The area also has a population of Gujjars, who are profiled differently in Kashmir.
Kashmir is pinning its hopes on the generation of hydro-power from its three rivers, the Mirwaiz said.He added he was aware that India would be offering no concessions, and Pakistan, with its own supporters in the Valley, would be one of the problems to contend with.