Will the Taliban Spillover Reach Kashmir?

Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the president Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul on August 15, 2021. (Photo | AP)

By Muhammad Tahir

AFTER the Taliban takeover of Kabul, and steady consolidation of the Islamist group’s power and control over Afghanistan, apprehensions are rife that this momentous event in the neighbouring country (of geostrategic importance) could have a spill-over effect over Kashmir, which is a site of a low-intensity armed conflict since past three decades.

That the ongoing rapid changes in Afghanistan are detrimental to India’s strategic and security interests (particularly with respect to the Kashmir situation) is widely believed and now echoes frequently among experts

That the ongoing rapid changes in Afghanistan are detrimental to India’s strategic and security interests (particularly with respect to the Kashmir situation) is widely believed and now echoes frequently among experts. Security analyst, Christine Fair, says that “we are quickly entering some version of the 1990s, but a more dangerous version…I anticipate that there will be grave consequences for India.” (Open Magazine, 23 July 2021). Arguing in the similar vein, Suhasini Haidar writes in The Hindu (13 August 2021) “For New Delhi, already countering hostilities at the LAC with China and the LoC with Pakistan, an unfriendly government in Kabul can only complicate its strategic options.”

Security analyst, Christine Fair, says that “we are quickly entering some version of the 1990s, but a more dangerous version…I anticipate that there will be grave consequences for India.” 

Closer home, senior Kashmiri journalist, Ahmed Ali Fayyaz, tweeted on 16 August that following the US defeat by the Taliban and the euphoria generated in its wake, “a new spell of militancy is imminent” in Kashmir. He also made an interesting observation regarding how the changed Afghan situation is reflecting in Kashmir, saying that “Sense of Pak-friendly Taliban’s victory & US-friendly India’s defeat in Afghanistan is visible among followers of militants/ separatists in Kashmir. But they are publicly tight-lipped due to post Aug-2019 situation. Had it been in 2018, there would have been celebrations on streets.” (It is pertinent to mention that 2018 was one of the bloodiest years in the past decade wherein, as per the JKCCS’ estimates, at least 586 people were killed, including 160 civilians, 267 militants and 159 members of the security forces. Two years prior, in 2016, large scale anti-India protests had occurred in Kashmir, following by student-led street protests in April 2017.)

Former NDTV anchor, Barkha Dutt, has suggested that to pre-empt any negative fallout of the Afghanistan situation on India, New Delhi should take some quick decisions. Writing in Hindustan Times (20 August 2021), she proposed: “From a menu of limited choices, India can and should do some things fast — get a political process going in Jammu and Kashmir, where restoration of statehood should not be delayed; keep an informal, tactical line of communication open with the Taliban, despite the revulsion it evokes in most of us.”

Defence experts from the security establishment believe that the fallout of the regime change in Kabul is marginal, and it is unlikely to pose any major security threat to Indian rule in Kashmir  

On the other hand, defence experts from the security establishment believe that the fallout of the regime change in Kabul is marginal, and it is unlikely to pose any major security threat to Indian rule in Kashmir. In the words of Lt-Gen. Davendra Pratap Pandey, who is the General officer Commanding of Srinagar-based 15 Corps of Indian army, “…there is a possibility that the U.S. forces’ pull-out from Afghanistan may push some militants into Kashmir, but the situation is not what it was 30 years ago.”

These apprehensions, speculations, and assumptions are based on certain historical context, and it is worth recalling that history, albeit with a caveat that it is not yet a fully reconstructed history because credible archival materials have not been exhausted on the subject.

A Look Back in History 

In their 2012 book The Meadow, investigative journalists, Adrian Levy and Cathy-Scott Clark, details how a certain Brigadier ‘Badam’ of Pakistan’s external spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), had planned to redirect some battle-hardened Anti-Soviet insurgents to Kashmir as the Afghan War was drawing to a close in late 1980s. Basing their claims on the sources within Pakistan security agencies and a journal maintained by Maulana Masood Azhar, Levy and Clark writes, “Now, in 1989, with the war in Afghanistan coming to a close, tens of thousands of pumped-up Muslim guerrillas at a loose end and Kashmir boiling up of its own accord, it was obvious to Brigadier Badam (and many others he served with) that their moment had come.”

Quoting from Sada-i-Mujahid (Voice of the Mujahid), the journal that Masood Azhar edited, Levy and Clark claims that Brigadier ‘Badam’ had approached Moulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil (of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen) in Karachi and offered $25,000 per month to his organisation “to find fighters to wage war in Kashmir, a sum that could rise dramatically if Maulana Khalil achieved anything like his success in Afghanistan.” The resources would come from the American money that the Brigadier and his team had reserved as “a contingency fund to aid rebellion in Kashmir.”

The Brigadier and Masood Azhar had a certain perception of Kashmiris, and they were of the view that Kashmiris didn’t have in them to be effective insurgents.

According to Azhar, “The Kashmiris were just too moderate to mount the kind of total war that was needed if India was to be unseated.” For the Brigadier, Levy and Clack writes, Kashmiris “had a habit of going their own way, preferring to mount their own campaigns.” Availability of surplus of guerrillas from the Anti-Soviet campaign was thus an opportune moment to grasp and use to tip Kashmir over the edge. The Brigadier envisaged a full-fledged infiltration across LOC to bolster the local insurgency.

Some Kashmiris believed that Afghans had joined the Kashmir insurgency as a way to reciprocate for their help during the anti-Soviet jihad

In her 1996 book, Kashmir in Conflict, Victoria Schofield says that the fighters who partook in the anti-Soviet jihad found their way into Kashmir via the porous border in the tribal area at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Their numbers swelled amid the collapse of Mohammad Najibullah regime in 1992. Most of these Afghan fighters were associated with the Harkat-ul Ansar (‘The Movement of The Victorious’, formed in 1993 in Pakistan through the merger of the HuM and two other groups). Quoting security analyst, Anthony Davis (Janes Intelligence Review, Vol 7, No. 1, 1995), Schofield writes that some Kashmiris believed that Afghans had joined the Kashmir insurgency as a way to reciprocate for their help during the anti-Soviet jihad. According to Schofield, “Between 1990 and 1995, the Indian government identified 297 ‘foreign mercenaries’ arrested or killed of which 213 were from Pakistan or Azad Kashmir, and 84 from Afghanistan” (p. 178).

The official data indicates that not many Afghans had entered the Kashmir insurgency in early 1990s. Data on foreign militants who have been arrested or killed during the years when the Taliban was ruling Afghanistan (1996-2001) is hard to come-by. The South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP) website used to feature a separate dataset on foreign militants in Kashmir, but that information is no longer available on the website, for unknown reasons.

Most commentators and analysts, therefore, have been using quantifiers instead of specifying the exact numbers or giving rough estimate. For example, journalist Barkha Dutt, in her recent Hindustan Times column (20 Aug) writes: “In the late 1990s and the early part of the 2000s, there was a graveyard in Srinagar, where only foreign terrorists were brought to be buried. As a reporter, I recall seeing the bodies of men from as far as Sudan; there were also a considerable number of infiltrators killed in military action who had come from Afghanistan.”  Lack (or disappearance) of data is one of the reasons why it is difficult to sift facts from the propaganda. Exaggerating number of foreign fighters suited a certain narrative that sought to elide over the indigeneity of the Kashmir insurgency.

The Taliban captured Kabul and consolidated its power over Afghanistan in September 1996. That year, according to SATP, 2903 persons were killed in conflict-related incidents in Kashmir. If we assume that Taliban takeover had a spillover in Kashmir, then the conflict-related fatalities must increase for the next few years because spillover often happens in the immediate aftermath of a momentous event. However, the data shows slight variation in yearly fatalities in Kashmir for the initial two years of the Taliban rule (1997, 1998). During these two years, a total of 4633 persons were killed in Kashmir, including 694 security personnel and 2222 insurgents. Comparatively, during the two years preceding the Taliban rule (1995, 1994), 5695 persons were killed in Kashmir, including 533 security personnel and 2995 insurgents. While the fatalities among the security forces had seen an uptick following the Taliban takeover, the insurgent (and overall) fatalities witnessed a downward trend. How is one to explain this data in relation to the claim that the Taliban takeover in 1996 had a spillover in Kashmir? Based on the parameters chosen (fatalities of security personnel or overall fatalities) the data can be interpreted either way.

Some analysts have corelated the increased conflict-related fatalities after 1989 to the advent of foreign fighters in Kashmir, but one of the main reasons for high fatalities among security personnel was that India’s counter-insurgency grid was relatively weaker in the early phase of insurgency and the guerrillas had an upper hand. But since then, the situation has changed a lot. Indian security forces have developed a strong counter-insurgency grid within Kashmir and after the 2003 ceasefire   agreement between India and Pakistan sealed and fortified the Line of Control with new technology under the project Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System.

What is Likely? 

The US exit from Afghanistan has forced strategic recalibration among great powers. Russia and China have warmed up to the Taliban. The UK has also indicated willingness to work with the new regime based on certain conditions. While India has adopted a wait-and-watch policy, its media (at vast IT cell) has geared up propaganda war on the Panjshir, much to the chagrin of Taliban. But the Taliban seems to appreciate the game of international politics and diplomacy, and accordingly the group seeks recognition and legitimacy by making carefully crafted statements through its PR machinery.

On 28 Aug 2021, the Taliban’s head of political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, said in a televised statement broadcasted by the Independent Urdu: “India is an important country of this region. We want to have good trade and economic ties with them like in the past… We give importance to our political relations and want them resumed.” This and other similar statements made by Taliban leaders indicate that the Taliban is seeking to engage India to gain recognition from the regional power.

If Taliban is behaving more pragmatically during its second stint, then it is unlikely that the group will try infiltrate into Kashmir. However, it would be difficult for a fledgling state to control its borders. So, despite the assurances to India, the Taliban won’t be able to control its militant allies who are focused on Kashmir. While the fortified LOC and heavy military presence will thwart the large infiltration attempts, there is surplus of weapons with the Taliban and other groups operating in the Afghan theatre which could find their way into Kashmir. In the past four years, security forces in Kashmir have recovered newer weapons from slain militants, such as US-made M4 Carbine, armour-piercing steel bullets, sniper rifles, and Chinese grenades. Recovery of these foreign weaponry indicate that the armed groups operating in Kashmir have secret channels to import weapons from across the LOC.  But supply of these weapons is not going to translate into bolstering of the insurgency.

The Taliban victory over the sole superpower will have more symbolic impact, infusing hopeful optimism among the dissenting population in Kashmir. On 21 August, PDP leader, Mehbooba Mufti, already tried to cash in on this narrative by warning New Delhi that patience of Kashmiris is wearing thin and if it continues with its oppressive policies against Kashmiris then similar fate awaits it. She made references to Afghanistan because it is politically resonant.


Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • The author is an independent researcher 

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