Does the Islamic State operate in Kashmir? There isn’t one answer to the question. The Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police in an interview to a television channel admitted that the group exists in Kashmir. He however, added that the group doesn’t have a “substantial” presence in Valley. But the Ministry of Home Affairs has categorically denied the existence of the group in Kashmir. A Home Ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying by a news agency that there was “no physical infrastructure or manpower of the IS in the Valley”.

A fresh debate about the presence of IS began in Kashmir after A’maq, the publicity wing of IS, claimed on Monday that the group carried out the attack on police constable Farooq Ahmad and “a war has just begun”. However, it is not only the governments in Srinagar and New Delhi which are apparently failing to make a sense of the IS presence in the Valley, the people too are confused.

On the other hand, the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen has often termed the advent of the IS and Al Qaeda as “an intelligence operation”, an opinion which resonates with a section of population in the Valley. They argue there is an attempt to play to existing international opinion about radical Islam and delegitimise the Azadi campaign. At the same time, there is popular support in some areas for the two organisations. But then also authentic IS and Al Qaeda Twitter handles and letter pads have owned up their Valley chapters. Recent months have also witnessed some use of the alleged IS flags in militant funerals.

Going downhill

Whatever be the reality of the IS, Al Qaeda presence in Kashmir, the truth is that the situation in the state is showing signs of progressive deterioration. The killings of police men in central Kashmir are the latest reminder to the effect. But far from revising its so called muscular policy and choosing engagement and dialogue to address the lingering issues in the state, the Centre has chosen to do nothing. And this attitude has pervaded the country’s institutions, including the media. Some televisions channels go into hysterics over the occasional waving of IS flags in Srinagar. Many channels run stories and debates over the intermittent incidents.

The TV debates also build a hateful stereotype of Kashmiris in the rest of India and create an anti-Kashmiri sentiment. This media stereotyping of Kashmiris has in turn left some imprint on the central government policy on the state too. The governments don’t want to be perceived to be “appeasing” Kashmiris. The harsh policy measures to deal with the state are welcomed and a constructive engagement is opposed. Over the years, this approach has further alienated Kashmiris, thereby creating a vicious circle. Both New Delhi and Kashmir Valley now deal with the stereotypes of each other than the complex realities as they exist on the ground. But this needs to change. And it is incumbent on the media to present a correct picture of the state as for the union government to get serious about the situation in the state.

This article first appeared on Kashmir Observer.