By Javed Beigh
The last few weeks of events show that Taliban is finally settling down in governing Afghanistan, even as the last American soldier departed from the soil of the war-torn country, officially ending US and NATO engagement in the country. The next obvious question for us in India is whether or not that means diversion of Taliban militants to the Kashmir Valley?
While it is an important question of strategic defence and foreign affairs, for people of Kashmir it means coming face to face with one of the most radicalized militant organisations of South Asia and the same can have deadly consequences for an already ravaged Kashmir Valley. So how good are chances of Taliban militants being pushed to Kashmir valley to reignite the militancy in Kashmir valley?
Officially, the stand of Taliban is that Kashmir dispute is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and Taliban has no role in it whatsoever. But since Taliban’s control lies in the hands of Punjabi Pakistani Muslim controlled ISI, civil government and army, the chances of Taliban getting entangled into Kashmir are very high additionally given geographical proximity of Afghanistan to Kashmir valley. As it is history of modern Afghanistan sending its Pashtun militants to fight in Kashmir insurgency are as old as the history of militancy in Kashmir valley itself.
In the early 1990s, when insurgency in Kashmir valley began, Taliban was not even in existence and Afghanistan was reeling under bitter and devastating civil war between rival Afghan mujahideen groups, who were fighting with each other to gain control of Kabul after the withdrawl of the Soviet Union. During this time, Pakistan’s ISI diverted a lot of out of work Afghan mujahideen to the Kashmir Valley to fight in anti India insurgency. It is said that by 1993 alone, nearly 400 Afghan mujahideen of Hezb-e-Islami of Afghan war lord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar were present in Kashmir Valley, a number which only increased subsequently. In first two decades of Kashmir insurgency, out of a total of nearly 16,000 militants killed, about 3,000 were of foreign origin, mainly Afghan mujahideen and Pakistani Punjabis. It took nearly quarter of a century for Indian armed forces to finally get Kashmir valley back to a semblance of normalcy. The foreign militancy part was subsequently taken over by Pakistani Punjabi militant organisations of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohamad.
But can history really repeat itself today in Kashmir Valley?
The answer to the question is quite complicated. The chances of physical intrusion by Taliban militants into Kashmir valley are quite thin and even some of those, who may be successful in intruding Kashmir valley, may not be able to do much damage either. There are concrete reasons behind this. First and foremost, the Kashmir of today is much different from Kashmir of early 1990s both in terms of our defenve preparedness, manning of LoC and Kashmir Valley’s own internal social conditions.
Secondly, there is extremely increased level of modern technological guarding and monitoring of nearly entire stretch of LoC within Kashmir valley and Jammu region through night vision cameras, defence satellite imagery and drones. The LoC which was hopelessly permeable in 1990s is today tightly sealed, which is even reflected in decrease in cross LoC infiltrations of militants between Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Kashmir valley. So, any chances of Pakistan trying to push a large contingent of Taliban militants into Kashmir valley at the scale of 1990s are next to impossible.
Thirdly and most importantly, there is a general sense of collective fatigue among people of Kashmir valley after nearly three decades of relentless death and destruction that not only destroyed the economy of Kashmir valley and brought governance to its knees but it also ended up in achieving nothing whatsoever. The abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the constitution of India was the last nail in the coffin, which made all Kashmiris realize the futility of the militant insurgency taken by the people of Kashmir.
Not only did Kashmir not get anything out of this messy confrontation, it also led to rupture of Kashmiri society with the forced exodus of Kashmiri Hindu Pundits, religious radicalization of Kashmiri society and the resulting lawlessness which further pushed Kashmir valley towards drugs, crime and religious extremism. I don’t think people of Kashmir valley want a repeat of any of that once again by facilitating return of Afghan militants in Kashmir valley.
Does this mean that we have thing to worry about Taliban?
No, we still have lot to worry of Taliban. While the Taliban may not be capable of sending its militants physically into Kashmir valley, the ideology of Taliban can easily penetrate the minds of Kashmiri youth and inspire them to once again aspire for something that our earlier generation did and ended up in destroying entire Kashmir. The rise of a religious puritan state in Afghanistan, that runs solely on Shariah and is guided by doctrines of Deoband School can have psychological impact on the younger generation of Kashmiris, a section of whom has been aspiring to turn Kashmir valley into a similar religious puritan state. It is the impact of what Taliban does in Afghanistan and how far will it go in implementing codes of Sharia that has potential of pushing next generation of Kashmiri youth towards violence and insurgency. This is a problem that will be faced not only by Kashmir valley but all Muslim majority countries surrounding Afghanistan including Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Our focus therefore should be to confront the ideology of Taliban, which is based on extreme and puritan interpretation of Islam, something that is not compatible with the moderate and secular character of Kashmir valley, which is based on syncretic Hindu Muslim culture of Kashmiriyat that is an amalgamation of Sufi Islam and Kashmiri Hindu Shaivism. It is important to make sure that our youth in Kashmir don’t idolise Taliban and eulogize its regressive, intolerant and violent ideology, which can push Kashmir valley once again to the dark abyss of death and destruction, from which the people of Kashmir are trying very desperately to come out of.
(Javed Beigh is a young political leader and is the State General Secretary of People’s Democratic Front. He can be reached @javedbeigh across Social Media Platforms. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are his personal)