How vulnerable is Kashmir to the Afghan Taliban

September 08, 2021 3:29 PM

The 67 years of Afghan rule proved to be extreme tyranny, the horror of terror, murder, loot and rape routinely quivered the Kashmiris for centuries.

But the folks in Kashmir know back to front what it means if Afghan fighters reenter the Valley. (Image: AFP)

By P Stobdan

There’s plenty of discussion around the recent Taliban’s triumph and its plausible impact on Kashmir. But the folks in Kashmir know back to front what it means if Afghan fighters reenter the Valley.

When the Mughal rulers exploited Kashmiri shawl weavers to build joy gardens in the Valley, they desperately sought protection under Afghan King Ahmad Shah Abdali (1753) – only to find themselves later out of the frying pan into the fire. The 67 years of Afghan rule proved to be extreme tyranny, the horror of terror, murder, loot and rape routinely quivered the Kashmiris for centuries. A couplet goes:

Pursidam az kharabive gulshan zi baghan
Afghan gulf ki Afghan kharab kard

(I enquired the cause of the destruction of the garden. Drawing a deep sigh the gardener replied, it is the Afghans who did it)

Terrified Kashmiri mothers then put their babies to sleep with a lullaby, “Deva yiyih Sikha raj tarit kyah” (may the Sikhs rule would cross over to us).

Ranjit Singh’s rule lasted for 27 years, but the Sikhs were not as cruel as the Afghans, Young husband quipped. William Moorcroft thought Sikhs treated Kashmiris “little better than cattle”.

Under the Dogra rulers from 1846-1947, Kashmiris remained stable and secured, but the Maharajas too exploited them through a Jagirdari system under which landless Kashmiri peasants could retain only 25 percent of what they produced.

While the Afghan tyranny had been forgotten for almost 2 centuries, hordes of Afghans once again forayed into the Valley in 1991 – courtesy of Pakistan. This time they came in Mujahid outfits belonging to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami cadre sent by ISI to join the ranks of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM).

Mujahids came with leftover weapons from the Afghan war; Kalashnikov Rifles and Stinger Missiles to launch Jihad in Kashmir. Sudanese, Arabs, Egyptians, Palestinians, and Pakistanis mercenaries too were funneled by Markaz-Dawat-ul-Arshad (MDA) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). They came to lend support to local terrorist outfits Al Barq, Al-Omar, Harkut-ul-Ansar et al. The ‘guest militants’ as they were known had numbered 600-1,000 initially but rose to 2,500 by 1994.

ISI then stirred them to liberate the land of Allah from the infidels (Hindus) who (they were told) were raping Muslim women and burning mosques in Kashmir. Crushing the Indian Army would be easier than defeating the Soviet troops, mercenaries were told. They were promised women, wine, and substantial risk benefits by ISI.

But what ensued was the replay of 18th – century tyranny – loot, extortion, even male rape and pedophilia that forced families to move their female members and boys to safer towns. Jihadists demanded ‘here we are to bring you Azadi by laying our lives on the line, how can you refuse us your women!’

Kashmiris felt badly humiliated, stopped shielding their ‘guest militants’, and as they lent a hand to security forces, foreign Jihadists moved out of the Valley towards the Pir Panjal range.

But to their dismay, the Afghans also found ISI’s poorly trained Kashmiri militants too ‘passive and timid’ for they lacked discipline and combat capability. A captured Pansheri told me once, ‘there’s no jihad in Kashmir; criminals had infiltrated in the ranks to make money’.

Afghans found no genocide, no rape, no burning of mosques. Instead, the decency of Kashmiri women belied their hope, the notion of Indian troops being inferior to the Soviets couldn’t be proved. Bitterly embittered Afghans found no cause for a Jihad against India – as they began to cross over into Pakistan by mid-1994.

ISI later created a United Jihad Council under Syed Salahuddin comprising an assortment of tanzeems. They were tasked to subdue Kashmiriyat and instead infuse pro-Pakistani Islamiat among Kashmiris. A Carnegie Endowment report then detailed ISI replicating its Afghan war strategy in Kashmir.

ISI’s Kashmir Jihadi drive later frittered away due to ideological rift among groups. All that ISI could achieve was to undercut the JKLF’s and boost Salafi extremism in Kashmir. Local Jamaatis not conforming to ISI’s dictates were eliminated systematically.

At the peak of militancy in 1993, a conglomerate of local parties came together to form the Hurriyat Conference, but eventually infighting among over 2 dozen affiliates led to a split in the party, one led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani espousing complete Azadi, while the other led by Mirwaiz seeking a negotiated settlement.

Hardline separatist Geelani remained the face of separatism in Kashmir since 1989. Mirwaiz faction followed a moderate line and entered into a dialogue with New Delhi in 2004. Others like Yasin Malik and Shabir Shah called for eschewing violence by 1994. By 1995, many opted out of the ‘gun culture’. Instead, a new group Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen of Kuka Parray went for reverse targets against those abusing Kashmiri pride. Parray’s group eliminated hundreds of Jamaat-i-Islami and HuM elements.

ISI then propped a Pakistani Jihadist ‘Major’ Mast Gul who burnt down a 400-year-old Kashmiri Sufi shrine Charar-e-Sharief in 1995.

The Afghan-style guerrilla war ended after Rashtriya Rifle (RR) and the Special Operation Group eliminated over 6,500 terrorists and forced 550 Jihadists to surrender by 1995 end.

When ISI failed in its Jihadi mission, Islamabad resorted to employing high-stake psychological warfare, visual deception and other methods through captive vernacular media – notorious among them included The Srinagar Times, Alsafa, Greater Kashmir, Wadi ki Awaz, Nadai Mashriq, Kashmir Times and others put out a daily dose of propaganda to raise Kashmiri passions and influence world opinion.

When this tactic also failed, Pakistan then raised the bogey of human rights violations in Kashmir at the global fora. But attempt to steer world opinion against India too got exposed when the UNHRC at its 1994 Geneva meet refused to pass a resolution on Kashmir. Pakistan had to withdraw its request even before the resolution was put to vote.

After the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, Pakistan once again sought an opportune moment to press for Kashmir ‘resolution’ but failed to garner even the minimum of 16 nations’ support needed to file a request for an urgent debate by UNHRC.

Now with the going away of separatist kingpin Syed Ali Shah Gilani, the vicissitudes of the Pakistani-sponsored network of separatists has been knocked down fully. The Taliban will have their hands full this time to bother about Kashmir. They would rather concentrate on the liberation of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan if they get the time.

(The author is a Senior Fellow at Delhi Policy Group, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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