Taliban in Kashmir (Taliban and IOK)- Express Tribune

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Some may have noticed that since Biden’s announcement of withdrawal from Afghanistan, Indian media has become somewhat obsessed with the idea of ‘Taliban in Kashmir’. This idea is usually linked to a statement attributed to Zabihullah Mujahid in May 2020 which said that “it is impossible to be friends with India unless the Kashmir dispute is resolved”, and that after capturing power in Kabul, they plan to “capture Kashmir from infidels”. Even as the Taliban’s official spokesperson denied that statement the following day, saying that “the policy of the Islamic Emirate is clear that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries”, it has become part of India’s inerasable memory.

Another reason for being edgy is the theory that at the end of the Russo-Afghan War (1989), mujahedeen from Afghanistan infiltrated into Kashmir to join the freedom-fighters there. The fault in this narrative is obvious: the ousting of Russians from the Afghan soil had created a vacuum wherein all the factions had started infighting, and Kabul remained the centre of civil war for three years — meaning that the mujahideen had not suddenly become laid off and not-needed in the Afghan soil anymore! Moreover, all these factions which had been aided by Pakistan during the Russian invasion had turned against Pakistan. And this was the reason for Pakistan to back a very new, emerging group called Taliban.

It is comprehensible that in such a theater of infighting and anti-Pakistan air, an Afghan-led initiative to enter Kashmir was not possible. If mujahideen were not even with Pakistan, how could they be expected to support a cause owned by Pakistan. Therefore, this Indian theory is faulty; and what is not narrated instead is the fact that it was the 1987 elections in Kashmir that sparked tensions in in the Indian-occupied territory. In those elections all Kashmiri parties believing in the power of vote had gathered under the Muslim United Front (MUF) to counter the New Delhi-backed Farooq Abdullah. However, the Indian side rigged the elections in favour of Abdullah. This resulted in widespread dissatisfaction in the masses and also led to the creation of Hizbul Mujahideen and the militant wing of JKLF. This was a turning point from where organised insurgency started against the Indian occupation of Kashmir.

Bewildered with this renewed momentum of freedom struggle, India appointed Jagmohan Malhotra as governor of Kashmir in January 1990. The ill-famed, ex-RAW general started off with a series of mass slaughters of unarmed protesters, adding fuel to fire. On March 1, an estimated one million people took to the streets of Srinagar carrying placards for the UN to intervene. The protesters were shot upon. This unprecedentedly large protest stamped on the indigenous nature of the Kashmir struggle, as it was a people-led movement — not one instigated by foreign elements.

But this does not mean that what was going on in Afghanistan had no effect on Kashmir. If one reckons the fact that much before the end of the Russo-Afghan War, dissidence had begun in several bordering states of the then USSR in both East Europe and Central Asia. And this idea of the defeat of a superpower at the hands of a bunch of untrained, unarmed, rag-tag mujahideen was empowering enough to ignite the craving for freedom in all these nations — and Kashmir could have been just one more nation that took inspiration from that idea.

If that sharing of idea is acknowledged as a legitimate factor in international politics, then surely the defeat of another superpower at the hands of the same rag-tag Afghans will potentially lit a new fire in the simmering ambers in the hearts of freedom lovers in Kashmir.

Another idea-generating lapse by India itself is its show of incapability and incapacity in Ladakh. What the Kashmiris are seeing is an India that dared to abrogate Articles 370 and 35A in August 2019, and a China that entered Ladakh in May 2020 and is still sitting there, to the point that the Indian government has started giving hints on the restoration of statehood to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

In September 2020, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told Lok Sabha that China had occupied approximately 38,000 square kilometres of Ladakh, making more than half of it. And latest reports indicate that even though China has moved back somewhat from Pangong Tso, there is no sign that it will return from Hot Springs, Gogra Post or the Depsang plains. So, how will the Kashmiris see the embarrassing defeat of the US and other sophisticated armies of Nato falling at the hands of the Taliban, and India again absconding from that same front?

India had been tailing along with the US for two decades, hoping that the occupiers will triumph, and it would make a huge leap all the way across Pakistan into Afghanistan. India was posing as if it would engulf both Pakistan and Kashmir in its mighty pursuit. But it seems that the dominos are falling in the other direction and all of a sudden India is all jittery about mujahideen redeployment in Kashmir!

All of a sudden, it looks like India is going to be squeezed in Kashmir — by China on one side and by rejuvenated Kashmiri freedom fighters on the other side. India will again start playing the blame game on Pakistan and Afghanistan. The question is: would the Taliban, the new rulers of the Islamic Emirates, , now take a breath of relief and focus on rebuilding their war-trodden country after two decades of sacrifices and painstaking battle, or, would they come running to fight another people’s fight in another country? Is that normal human behaviour? Certainly not! However, if the Taliban have been painted as a terrorist organisation made of mercenaries whose favourite pastime is killing and torturing, then you could easily be led to imagine that the “blood-thirsty” Taliban would relent for not a moment to reach a new ground to ravage and devour. But if you know that the Taliban are made of purely native Pashtun tribals who have never left their country before to wage war on another people — unlike those who ravaged their land for 20 years — then perhaps you could be led into thinking that they would be more inclined to mind their own business!

Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2021.

The writer is a geopolitical analyst. Aneela Shahzad