The killing of four persons on Tuesday last in Srinagar should raise concerns about the ongoing tension in Kashmir. Although Kashmir is under the direct control of the Union government, the security situation is far from being perfect. The scenario has got worse, at least in perception, after the Taliban’s coming to power in Kabul. Going by the past experience, observers and officials are predicting a spill-over of terrorism from Afghanistan to Srinagar. How does New Delhi deal with this impending threat?
Clearly, Kashmir, the part with India, and the Pakistan occupied territory have been unfinished business. India is claiming, albeit, not so vociferously yet, the POK, and Pakistan is leaving no stone unturned to grab Indian Kashmir. The rivalry originating from her and manifesting in different other aspects of bilateralism continues. It has been since 1947. Unless a concrete solution is worked out, the tension is most likely to continue. Taliban in Afghanistan is an important variable in the equation. It too has to be strategically dealt with.
Before we proffer some diplomatic tools that can be used in solving the Kashmir tangle, let us sample some of the observations made by experts. There are at least three kinds of voices from Taliban, one of engaging in Srinagar, another of being concerned about it, and third of plain neutrality. The first stand was articulated by, Suhail Shaheen of Taliban who told the BBC’s Hindi service: “As Muslims, we also have a right to raise our voice for Muslims in Kashmir, India or any other country.”
In another interview with a Pakistan-based channel, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid urged Pakistan and India to sit together to resolve all issues. This is position of concern, but not direct involvement. At the same time, in a recent interview with CNN-News18, Taliban leader Anas Haqqani said: “Kashmir is not part of our jurisdiction and interference is against our policy.”
The reactions from the Indian side reflect deep anxiety, ominous anticipation but resolute preparedness. Lt. Gen. Deependra Singh Hooda, former military commander for Northern India between 2014-2016, said militant groups based across the border in Pakistan would “certainly try and push men” into Kashmir, following the Taliban victory in Afghanistan. He added that it was too early to predict if any influx of fighters into Kashmir would be “in big numbers that destabilise the security situation” and push the region into a military confrontation.
Naturally, going by the past experience, when the Soviet Union withdrew from Kabul in 1989, the Mujahedeen’s and their comrades-in arms, terrorists from various groups backed tacitly by Pakistan army and the ISI turned to Kashmir. Indian officials worry that Afghanistan under the Taliban could be used as a base for organising Islamist militants in Kashmir, many of whom are allied with Pakistan in their struggle against New Delhi. This was corroborated in an interview by the former Pakistani General and President Musharraf, “After the Soviet withdrawal, hundreds of Islamist fighters, terrorists had to go somewhere. And for many, somewhere was Kashmir.” Now, 32 years later, when the last US soldier has left Afghanistan and Taliban has taken over, it again has left thousands of mercenaries jobless, who are triumphant after having driven yet another superpower out of Afghanistan. Boyed by such triumphalism, the terrorist will flex their muscle elsewhere. Their dictum is they “exist to kill and kill to exist”. So, to expect them not to do harm is naïve.
The European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) has expressed similar fear that Pakistan-backed and trained ‘jihadi’ terrorists will be diverted to Kashmir after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. A former Kashmir militant who trained in Afghanistan in the 1990s and fought alongside Afghan mujahideen in Kashmir added: “The Taliban victory has already supplied oxygen to our movement.”
According to the Intelligence agencies, at least six groups of terrorists have infiltrated the Kashmir Valley. From various intelligence sources it is estimated that as many as 300 terrorists have again occupied the camps across the Line of Control in Pakistani territory. Such incursions will continue to occur unless the contention over Kashmir is not resolved.
New Delhi took a bold and sagacious step in convening a meeting of the security heads on Afghanistan. Although it was a bit late in the day, it underlined India’s potential to paly a role in the war-torn country. To be sure, it is a tall order for India to break into the vaunted security circle of Afghanistan. As such, the big two players, China and Pakistan did not attend the New Delhi meeting.
The prudent step for New Delhi to take should be to decouple the strategies on Afghanistan and Pakistan, vis a vis Kashmir. Pakistan will like to link the two. It is in India’s interest to separate these. In practical terms, it will mean, New Delhi should engage with Afghanistan irrespective of Pakistan’s position and vested interest in Kabul.
On the other hand, New Delhi should engage with Islamabad to resolve Kashmir, the issue. The terms of engagement have to be creatively worked out so that the dialogue process is resumed or recreated. Some of the tools that will constitute the dialogue process will include a framework based on a set of agreed principles. One may have to go back to the first principle.
What is it really about? What are we trying to achieve? The second tool will be to proceed to a resolution, in which, the issue needs to be focussed on and grippled, continually, inexhaustively, and relentlessly, day by day. The biggest problem with the Middle East peace process is that no one ever gripped it long enough or firmly enough.
There are many successful examples in the world of conflict resolution. Nothing is impossible in life and in politics if right inputs are made and a process is created. New Delhi has two options on Kashmir– one is to hold up to Pakistan and its allies by balance of power, or resolve it by bilateral negotiation, a dialogue process. At present, there is no dialogue in sight. That is a big miss in the diplomacy in South Asian region. The conflicts among South Asian countries have been prompted and abetted by external players. The countries concerned should try to stay away from such manipulation and solve their respective problems. That is challenge of the time.
To sum up, India will have to change gear and shift from an inherently antagonistic position in relation to Pakistan, and engage in dialogue. China’s pernicious pressure on India’s neighbour has to be fought off. The best way to do is to talk to Pakistan, the closest ally of China.