In a discussion on Pak TV, last week, Neelam Irshad Sheikh, spokesperson of Imran Khan’s PTI, stated, ‘The Taliban are saying that they are with us, and they will help us in Kashmir.’ She stuck to her words, despite being warned by the anchor to be careful of her comments.Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani political scientist with the South Asian Institute stated, ‘After victory in Kabul, JeM has started to talk about Kashmir again.’ Hizbul Mujahideen’s chief, Syed Salahuddin, congratulating the Taliban requested, ‘I pray to Allah that he strengthens the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan so that they may support Kashmiris against India.’Masood Azar, leader of JeM was reported to have visited Kandahar, met Taliban leaders and requested them for support in Kashmir.
Since Taliban 2.0 took over Afghanistan there have been a spate of discussions on how this would impact Kashmir. There have been comments that Afghan Taliban members would be inducted as terrorists into Kashmir once Taliban begins ruling the country.
Lt Gen Pandey, GOC 15 Corps in Srinagar, mentioned in a press interaction, ‘There’s a possibility that US forces pullout from Afghanistan may push some militants into Kashmir.’ The CDS, General Rawat, addressing a seminar stated, ‘we will make sure that any activity likely to flow out of Afghanistan and then find its way into India will be dealt with in the manner in which we have been dealing with terrorism in our country.’
There is no doubt that Pakistan would attempt to exploit its success in Afghanistan to turn its attention to its next dispute Kashmir, however not all will remain hunky dory, despite comments by many Pakistani’s. It will largely be dependent on the approach adopted by the Taliban and Indian preparedness.
Firstly, India is not the same as it was in the eighties and nineties when there were some Afghan terrorists in Kashmir. The border fencing was not effective, counter infiltration grid was not as organized, and the Rashtriya Rifles, backbone behind subduing terrorism,was just being raised. Further, the current Indian policy of retaliating hard against Pak posts, involved in infiltration attempts, unmindful of collateral damage,was not in force. Finally, India had not responded to Pak’s misadventures by cross border strikes.
Secondly, Taliban 1.0 also did not officially support Pakistan in its venture in Kashmir. It attempted to play a neutral role. However, some of its militia, comprised of mercenaries, were hired by Pakistan and inducted into Kashmir. Taliban 2.0 has a similar approach. It also seeks to invite India to invest in development of Afghanistan. In multiple press conferences its leadership has stated that Kashmir is a matter for India and Pakistan to resolve. India is quietly engaging Taliban 2.0 as against Taliban 1.0.
Hence, official support may be unlikely. It must also be understood that most Taliban fighters are Pashtuns, coming from Pakistan’s tribal belt as also from amongst Afghan refugees based in Pakistan. There are many who are from regions close to Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Like with Taliban 1.0, there would be few who could act as guns for hire and be inducted on a contract basis. Afghan army veterans,now unemployed, may also be available for recruitment. Few of those recruited would realise that once inducted into Kashmir there is no return ticket.
The Pak army would definitely shift its terrorist training camps from within Pakistan to Eastern Afghanistan. This will provide Pak with multiple benefits. These camps would be beyond Pak borders and in case of an Indian retaliatory strike, like Balakote, it would involve a third country, Afghanistan, leading to international condemnation and drawing Afghanistan into the Kashmir dispute. This will benefit Pakistan as India-Afghan relations could be marred. Hence, India would need to consider targets other than these camps and of them, there is no shortfall. The second benefit is that Pakistan could claim that these groups are beyond its control and not operating from its soil. This could work in Pakistan’s favour when it attempts to hoodwink global watchdogs like the FATF.
US weapons, captured by the Taliban, have been reported to be moving to Pakistan. These will provide them with a ready cache of weapons for supporting terrorism in Kashmir. In addition, open availability of weapons in Afghanistan procured cheaply could add to their stock. Some could be drone dropped into the valley or smuggled with infiltration attempts or employing drug couriers to enhance staying power of local recruits. This will be a matter of concern in the period ahead for security forces.
Finally, the cadre of JeM and LeT, which fought alongside the Taliban are now battle hardened and could be inducted to enhance terrorism in Kashmir. The fact remains that they have to first infiltrate into Kashmir to be employed. Breaching the current ceasefire, to support infiltration, would add to Pak’s security concerns as it would be compelled to move back forces currently deployed along its Afghan borders.
The past two years has projected a changed Kashmir where intelligence inputs on even local militants are on the rise. The population desires peace and development, rather than turmoil. The support base of the Hurriyat, Pakistan’s proxy, and overground workers has receded. Support to inducted terrorists is at an all-time low.
India has amply demonstrated its capability to strongly counter Pakistan’s misadventures by retaliatory strikes. Pak may attempt to keep its terrorist training camps away from its soil; however, other targets would always be on the Indian radar. In addition, Pakistan’s western borders would remain in a state of flux as the Taliban have refused to reign in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The TTP and Baluchi’s have increased the vulnerability of the CPEC. Chinese concerns are on the rise. Pakistan would first need to address these concerns, as it impacts their development and economy.
Globally, with the world pulling out of Afghanistan, there would be lesser support for Pakistan. Hence, it will suffer global condemnation if it employs Afghan terrorists in Kashmir.
Ultimately, seeking support of the Taliban projects an image that the Pakistan army has admitted it is incapable of acting on its own to achieve its national goals and begs backing of others. In all likelihood, even this support appears to be dreams of the Pak hierarchy.
(The author is Major General (Retd)