The Kashmir-Afghanistan Conundrum: Why India Shouldn’t Fear a Repeat of History

When the United States President Donald Trump first announced plans for the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the question of the implications for Kashmir became a potentially “major headache” for India. Given favorable conditions, any success of a militant movement against a strong military power has the potential to reinvigorate a similar movement elsewhere. Three decades ago, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan helped the anti-India militant movement in Kashmir gain strength. While the United States-Taliban peace talks for a possible withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan remain underway, the outcome of these negotiations is being closely monitored in India.

In December last year, the former Director General of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, K. Rajendra, highlighted these apprehensions over the U.S. withdrawal by saying “it is a matter of time that we will be feeling its implications in the Valley.” He also called for a “surrender policy” to be adopted by the government of India, wherein surrendered militants are provided with gainful employment and discouraged from returning to violence. Heeding this suggestion, the current government in Jammu and Kashmir has already announced changes to the surrender policy, allowing surrendered militants to be eligible for a fixed deposit of approximately USD $7,000-8,500  and to enroll in programs to seek self-employment.

But how serious are the implications of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan on India? The debates in India may overestimate the danger, as a deeper analysis shows that India should be concerned about implications of withdrawal on the regional balance of power rather than on the strength of the Kashmir insurgency.

History Repeating Itself?

The beginning of an anti-India insurgency in Kashmir coincided with the end of the Cold War and the departure of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. The Afghan mujahideen, aided by the United States and trained by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), were winning battle after battle against the Red Army—when the Soviet forces were completely defeated, the militant energies of the mujahideen were rerouted to Kashmir. This was an era when the call for jihad did not mean an establishment of a global Islamic state, but the end of non-Muslim rule over Muslim lands. Kashmir thus emerged as a battleground in the backyard for the mujahideen. Abruptly abandoned by the United States, many of the mujahideen travelled to Kashmir and made parts of the Valley, like Sopore, their own “liberated zone.”

Thirty years later, India fears a repeat of history, which previously came as a tragic jolt to its control over the Valley. India fears that an influx of militants from Afghanistan may expose the enforced normalcy on the ground in Kashmir as a farce. It is in this light that India, for the first time, has softened its stand on the Taliban and sent a non-official delegation to participate in the talks held in Moscow in November last year. The Moscow format was an interesting spectacle since it involved the former foes—Russia and the Taliban—sitting shoulder to shoulder.

 The Role of Taliban

Negotiations that favor the Taliban and not the Afghan government are an embarrassment to India and may be seen as a victory for Pakistan, who has always believed the Taliban is the future. As the seventeen-year-war comes to an end, the loss to India is only at a strategic level, as New Delhi’s efforts to rebuild the country and its constant support to the Afghan regime appear to have yielded very little in terms of a say in the post-war government of Afghanistan.

Does the Taliban’s ascendance into a possible power-sharing arrangement in the Afghan government present any dangers to India in Kashmir? In one word: no.

Does the Taliban’s ascendance into a possible power-sharing arrangement in the Afghan government present any dangers to India in Kashmir? In one word: no. The United States has agreed to the crucial Taliban demand on the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. In return, the Taliban are expected to oppose and deny a foothold to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on Afghan soil. Some members of the Taliban have acknowledged their mistake in hosting Al-Qaeda after 9/11, and will be reluctant to be soft on either group for fear of disturbing the international community.

It is also likely that the Taliban will not be interested in Kashmir at a time when they have forces like ISIS and Al-Qaeda to deal with at home. The size of ISIS in Afghanistan – a group consisting of defected members of the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban that found its foothold in the country in 2015 –is not exactly known, but estimates place its numbers between 3,000-5,000 fighters. At present, the Taliban will be more interested in regaining the ground lost to ISIS than offering its energies to the Kashmir cause. Additionally, Al-Qaeda has also shown signs of rebuilding and given how their sectarian nature aligns with that of ISIS, either of the two may well subsume the other in future.

The Situation in Kashmir

The situation in Kashmir at present does not favor any outside intervention on the scale it did in early 1990s. The Jammu and Kashmir police report that there are no more than 300 militants active, compared to the thousands in the 1990s. At present, the insurgency does not appear to be damaging enough to draw India to the negotiating table with Pakistan or even the representatives like the Hurriyat conference in Kashmir. India’s counterinsurgency apparatus today is more evolved than that of the 1990s; this has shifted the exchange of violence in Kashmir from between the Indian army and militants to militants and the local police. Outside forces will only be able to make a difference in the intensity of insurgent activity in Kashmir if the groups fighting India at present are able to demonstrate their power potential. Recently, Kashmiri militants have suffered heavy losses after India announced the start of “Operation All-Out” to flush out all militants.  

It would serve the interests of Pakistan to adopt a more belligerent approach and, once the post-war Afghanistan achieves a semblance of stability and the Taliban gain control over government, redirect Taliban forces into Kashmir. But the situation in Kashmir and Taliban’s own position does not appear suitable for such an excursion.

The role of Pakistan will be significant in determining if history will repeat itself in Kashmir. Strategically, and given how important Kashmir is to the idea of Pakistan as well as the idea of India, it would serve the interests of Pakistan to adopt a more belligerent approach and, once the post-war Afghanistan achieves a semblance of stability and the Taliban gain control over government, redirect Taliban forces into Kashmir. But the situation in Kashmir and Taliban’s own position does not appear suitable for such an excursion. At present, Islamabad seems to be interested in the promotion of dialogue to resolve the conflict over Kashmir, though Prime Minister Modi thinks it will be a mistake to believe them.

What’s in Store for Kashmir?

While its allies in Afghanistan want unconditional negotiations with the Taliban, India has its own condition of an “end of support to terror activities” to begin a dialogue with Pakistan. However, in Kashmir, India wants to continue with the policy of what this author has elsewhere underlined as the 3M’s: money, muscle, and the mainstream. As the new surrender policy also highlights, the present dispensation in India plans to buy off militants willing to surrender, kill those who do not want to (as evident from the continuing of “Operation All Out”), and promote more people to join what is called the mainstream politics.

To avoid any escalation of violence in Kashmir, and also any foreign intervention, India and Pakistan will need to push forward a peace process and arrive at a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir conflict by unconditionally responding to the peace overtures made by either of the parties. India, however, needs to take a proactive stance in this regard, given how its geopolitical position may potentially start to weaken as a result of Pakistan, post-war Afghanistan, and China coming together.

The author would like to thank his friend, fellow researcher, and wonderful cook Mudasir Amin for his inputs.

***

Image 1: Jesse Rapczak via Flickr

Image 2: Yawar Nazir via Getty

Posted in , Afghanistan, Defence, Foreign Policy, India, Kashmir, Militancy, Policy, Politics, Uncategorized

Basharat Ali

Basharat Ali

Basharat Ali has a post-graduate degree in Conflict Analysis and Peace Building from Nelson Mandela Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He is currently enrolled as a Ph.D. student at the same University’s Academy of International Studies. Basharat’s Ph.D. is a theoretical exploration of political violence in Kashmir. Previously, he has contributed to Outlook Magazine, Dawn, and Kashmir INK among other South Asian publications. Besides research and writing, he is passionate about reviewing books. Basharat Ali is also a Contributing Editor to Wande Magazine.

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4 thoughts on “The Kashmir-Afghanistan Conundrum: Why India Shouldn’t Fear a Repeat of History

  1. Basharat:
    A great piece of analysis.
    You make a persuasive case. One more reason: the Taliban may find themselves fighting the Afghan National forces — sooner or later. J&K isn’t why they’ve been fighting all these years.
    MK

  2. There are a few key assumptions in this piece:
    1. Pakistan doesn’t intend to use its leverage with militant actors in Afghanistan to influence events in Kashmir
    2. India comes to the negotiating table if the insurgency in Kashmir becomes more intense.

    As Shiv Shankar Menon said India’s problems don’t stem from Taliban they stem from Pakistan. Does Pakistan have influence with current leadership of Taliban, definitely yes! The Haqqani Network is irreversibly embedded in the Taliban power structure. Also look who is leading the ‘peace talks’, a few years back Mullah Barader was put into the jail and kept sedated because he tried to lead the peace talks independent of Pakistani security establishment. Has Pakistan been diplomatically and otherwise supporting Khalistani elements to revive terror movement in Punjab, yes they have! Does Pakistan desperately want to gain the long lost sympathy for the Kashmir cause with the international community, yes they do! What’s the best way to do that when they have no coercive leverage to bring India to the negotiating table? Increase the intensity of infiltration in Kashmir, that certainly is a logical choice? Sure, there are some reputational costs with such an action but if past is prologue, this cost is not a deterrent!

    India coming to the negotiating table is not function of the intensity of insurgency in Kashmir, it may have been the case earlier, it certainly is not now. Indian assessment of Pakistan over the years has not changed, unless the internal balance of power of institutions within Pakistan changes there is no opportune time for talks. Why is this important, because India has seen no remarkable shift in the security establishment’s sincerity or intent to have meaningful process!
    P.S. : No one has done more damage to Kashmir and India in general as BJP. They have led us to a state where local recruitment and resentment have been high with no end in sight. On that I concur.

    India hasn’t softened its stance on Taliban, engaging is not conferring legitimacy, and it looks unlikely until the configuration of power in Kabul takes its final shape.

    How much of a concern is ISIS to Taliban, sure ISIS has dug its heels in Nangarhar, but compare the strength:
    ISIS as the article says has a strength of about 3000-5000 fighters. Taliban suffer a great number of casualties suffer every month and have suffered many through the years, their ability to replace their fighting force and carry out offensive military action with large scale attacks of the sort conducted in Ghazni, Farah, etc. provinces indicate that their strength could well be 80,000+. Taliban has material support from Iran, Russia and Pakistan none of whom support ISIS. ISIS certainly is a challenge to Taliban but a minor one!

    As for Taliban statements and its assurances I would take them with a pinch of salt, their sole objective is to see the back of foreign forces, then they will deal with Afghanistan as they see fit. I don’t even consider this a negotiation process because this is not mutually hurting stalemate in the eyes of Taliban.

  3. Amazing piece
    At the outset India does have fears which may or may not materialize.
    I think we shouldn’t go into the question of increased infiltration or insurgency in j and k through Pakistani channel with Taliban support at hand in the case of post-war Taliban-led(powersharing) Afghanistan, which the Indian state will be enough capable to crush and that may or may not work for them, the more immediate impact of the Taliban-led Afghanistan on Kashmir is going to be more of a moral and psychological character. It will embolden not only the militants out there fighting Indian military establishment but will boost street protesters, the Hurriyat people and thus increase the longevity of the movement there. As the America announced its plans of Afghan pull-out, the stories of Taliban success defeating American military might became over-night tales in my locality out there and that may be true of others as well. One elderly man told me America is gone, it is now India’s turn in Kashmir. This is how it is impacting Kashmir.
    Pakistan will use Taliban- led Afghanistan not to settle larger geopolitical equations in the region especially those concerned with India’s presence in Afghanistan & Iran but also on Kashmir Question if not materially and military but definitely diplomatically(on both regional & international forums)
    If India successfully engages Taliban- led Afghanistan through SAARC and othermechanisms, Taliban will have option of backing Pakistan on Kashmir front through back channels.
    I think Taliban troops infiltrating into KAshmir with pak support is out of Question as Taliban has promised No-Support to terror to Americans in the recent talks because they can’t afford to jeopardize the stability of Afghanistan which will definitely be a high priority on their brains.
    At last I would like to say India must fear as the terms with present Afghan regime and possible Taliban-sharing power arrangement are not going to be same. The present Afghan govt. does not utter a single word on Kashmir but post- war Afghanistan is not going to keep mum. However this shouldn’t deter India from supporting a meaningful Afghan peace process involving Taliban at the front.

  4. A great analysis, a very good piece of research
    ,Pakistan-administered geographic area – fashioned in 1989, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen has been at the forefront of the fight against the Indian army in Indian-administered geographic area. LED by Syed Salahuddin, United Nations agency is presently resident within the Pakistani town of city, the cluster has disbursed various attacks against Indian forces since the armed campaign line of work for Kashmiri independence began in 1989.
    read full article at
    https://techworld041.blogspot.com/2019/08/afghan-mujahideen-owe-kashmir-debt.html

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