India fears Taliban fallout in occupied Kashmir

AFP News Agency

16th Oct, 2021. 11:16 am
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Image: AFP

SRINAGAR: As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi set out his Taliban worries to world leaders this week, Indian forces staged raids and battled militants in occupied Kashmir who he fears could be emboldened by the victory in Afghanistan.

India has not openly blamed the Taliban takeover for the uptick in violence, but it has intensified patrols near Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and fortified some army camps, according to residents and security officials who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.

Modi told a Group of 20 summit in Rome earlier this week that international efforts were needed to make sure Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for “radicalisation and terrorism”. He has also raised India’s concerns with United States President Joe Biden.

Weapons and fighters

India was a backer of the Soviet-puppet government in Kabul that was overthrown by mujahideen forces in 1992.

In 2001, it helped the US-led forces that toppled the Taliban. And it was a major donor to the government that the militants crushed in August.

Afghan militants fought alongside Kashmir fighters in the 1980s and 1990s. About 20 Afghan “guest mujahideen” were killed and 10 were captured, according to a former Kashmiri fighter.

India worries that weapons and fighters could again reach the region, over which it has fought two wars against Pakistan.

“What we can say and learn from the past is that when the previous Taliban regime was in power… definitely we had foreign terrorists of Afghan origin in Jammu and Kashmir,” said India’s military chief of staff, General M.M. Naravane.

“So there are reasons to believe that the same thing might happen once again.”

‘Oxygen to our movement’

Protests are virtually impossible in Kashmir because of restrictions imposed by Delhi since the region’s semi-autonomous status was revoked in 2019. But some in Kashmir have quietly welcomed the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan as a victory against the odds that they, too, can aspire to one day.

“If they can defeat the world’s largest military power, we see a possibility that we, too, can win our freedom,” one businessman in the main Kashmir city of Srinagar told AFP, declining to be named.

Given India’s security clampdown on Kashmir, Gen Naravane and other military chiefs are confident that Delhi can cope with any surge.

But speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior security official in Kashmir said that “there is some panic” inside the security establishment.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Wilson Centre in Washington, said Afghanistan’s new rulers could inspire “stepped-up unrest” in Kashmir.

Taliban officials have said they want to maintain trade and other ties with India, meaning that some kind of contact will have to be maintained.

“The Taliban itself won’t agitate for unrest in Kashmir, but those it is aligned with likely will do so,” he said.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a columnist and security analyst in Pakistan, said he saw no reason the Taliban would want to “deliberately agitate the Indian authorities”.

Its victory, he believes, is more important for the signal it sends to “young Kashmiri boys and girls watching the images from Afghanistan”.