Afghanistan's Comeback in Kashmir Politics

The return to power in Kabul of the Islamic group is too big a geopolitical development to leave Kashmir untouched

MEHBOOBA Mufti warned the centre that it could meet the fate of the US if it did not rethink its repressive policies in Kashmir when she spoke to her party workers at Kulgam days after the Taliban overtook Afghanistan. “If people lose patience, you will disappear,” Mehbooba told New Delhi. The strongly worded speech has since sparked controversy with the BJP leaders as usual calling for action against her.

Soon after her rally, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration held a meeting where they reiterated their demand for the restoration of Article 370 and statehood.

The timing of Mehbooba's speech and the PAGD meeting is significant. Both came amid the now raging speculations that the Taliban victory would revive flagging insurgency in Kashmir.

There is certainly a feeling of deja vu.  Will the situation in Kashmir that followed the exit of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989 and its subsequent break-up repeat itself, this time compounded by the rise of China as the global power? Will China assert itself more aggressively on the regional stage and on Pakistan’s side? Will this launch a new regional great game with India, Pakistan, and China its immediate players? And with the US off its back, will Pakistan seek to again take a hardline on Kashmir. And, of course, what about the fallout on the Azadi struggle in Kashmir? The answers to these questions are still in the realm of speculation. What is, however, certain, is that the US exit from Afghanistan will redraw the political and strategic priorities of the regional players – including that of India and Pakistan. It is likely that the situation will change rapidly enough for many existing arrangements not to hold.

The aspects of regional geopolitics that are unlikely to change are the ones governed by global exigencies. The US-India relations for example. Economy apart, the cooperation of the two countries in Afghanistan and across a broad array of geo-political issues has intensified over the years. The relations between the US and Pakistan, on the contrary, have lost their old raison d'etre. Their objectives in Afghanistan have diverged to an extent that there is hardly any scope for reconciliation.  China’s rise and expanding clout together with India’s importance as a regional counterweight have redrawn the US priorities in the region.

Such a shift has profoundly impacted the nature of disputes like Kashmir. In the ongoing gradual shift from a unipolar to a multi-polar world, India is asserting itself as a global power. What is more, in western eyes, the country’s  democratic credentials - albeit diminished in recent years - favourably distinguish it from China. This has now firmly ruled out the chances of outside mediation on Kashmir if ever there was one.

At the same time, the return to power of the Taliban is too big a geopolitical development to leave Kashmir untouched.  And this is also clear from the statements being issued by the senior government functionaries, experts and the politicians in India. Senior BJP leader Ram Madhav, who was the party’s in-charge for Jammu and Kashmir for years, was among the first in India to point out the security implications of the Taliban takeover for India.  In a tweet, Madhav admitted that “the immediate threat was for India”.

India is gearing up for a possible influx of militants into Kashmir to support the ongoing militant struggle in the region. Taliban’s first stint in power had witnessed a sharp spike in violence in the Valley including a short war between India and Pakistan in Kargil. There is a possibility that a similar situation could play out in Kashmir. More so, in the wake of India's withdrawal of Kashmir's autonomy which Pakistan, Taliban's perceived benefactor, has vowed to resist and Kashmiris want to be undone.

It is also true that the geo-political context now is markedly different from the nineties and the Taliban itself may not be keen to get involved. Any such involvement will only further detract from the group’s legitimacy at the international level. Taliban has also assured that it won’t allow Afghan soil to be used to carry out attacks against other countries. The group’s first concern would be to seek international recognition and the aid to help stabilize the war-scarred country.

Similarly, being seen to be sending across militants to aid the militancy in Kashmir is likely to have repercussions for Pakistan which is still under the scanner of the Financial Action Task Force. Furthermore, Pakistan will have to prioritize dealing with the security implications of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in the near term. The group’s like Tehreek Taliban Pakistan will certainly be inspired if not aided by their Afghan counterparts to mount a fresh challenge to the Pakistani state.

It also remains to be seen whether and how much the Taliban would be influenced by Pakistan.  It is possible that the Taliban, fresh from having defeated the superpower US will choose to strike on its own. All these factors will play out in the weeks and months to come. In the meantime, we can only cross our fingers.

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

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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