Taliban shadow over Kashmir

Kashmir jihad is closely connected to developments in Waziristan

K.N. Pandit

PPP leader Mr. Zardari’s past bluff of putting Kashmir on the backburner had caused deep revulsion among Kashmiri separatists, jihadis and ambivalent mainstream political leadership. Muzaffarabad-based Kashmir Jihad Council chief Sayyid Salahud-Din had lost no time to rubbish the idea and asserted that armed efforts to “liberate” Kashmir would be intensified. Uniting all armed groups of jihadis under KJC umbrella was his first reaction.

PDP chief Mufti Saeed declared that the disputed question of Kashmir had to be resolved: National Conference leadership spoke the same language in essence.

“Moderate” Hurriyat chief Mir Waiz travelled all the way to Islamabad to persuade PPP leadership to abandon the idea of deferring resolution of Kashmir issue, as it would mean demoralization of two-decades old Islamic jihad in Kashmir.

Faced with adverse reaction, the PPP leader changed the tag, and Pakistani Prime Minister made a policy statement reiterating Pakistan’s traditional Kashmir policy. It was a victory of pro-Pak elements in both parts of Kashmir.

But the Kashmir separatists and their jihadi cohorts across the cease fire line in Kashmir look at Mr. Zardari’s u-turn with deep-seated suspicion.  The ISI geared up to intensify jihadi activities on the ground in Kashmir in order to send a signal not only to the Indians but also to Pakistan’s domestic political managers that Kashmir question is not a cup of tea of wayward politicians. Fortunately, Indian policy planners had, in their private assessment, discounted Mr. Zardari’s guffaw by ignoring it altogether.

Recently, The Times of London reported the presence of Kashmiri jihadis in the training camps of Osama bin Laden somewhere in the deep recesses of Waziristan Mountains. Earlier, the Indian Army Chief had, in reply to a pressman’s question, said that clandestine connection between Kashmiri armed separatists and Al Qaeda could not be ruled out.

In its war on terrorism, apart from losses to American and NATO forces, Pakistani troops, recently suffered many casualties at the hands of Al Qaeda Taliban in Waziristan. In a significant report, the Pakistani Council for Foreign Relations said, “ Pakistan government lacks the political, military or bureaucratic capacity to fix the tribal areas on its own.” The fact of the matter is that much of administration of FATA and parts of Pakistan’s NWFP is in the hands of Pakistan’s own Taliban and Al Qaeda commanders who shore up training and planning capabilities of their cadres.

Reacting to the killing of 9 American soldiers at a Kunar post in Eastern Afghanistan close to Pakistan border on 13 July, Admiral Mike Mullen, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman said in an interview on Fox Television, “ the insurgents are now freely, much more freely able to come across the border. They are a big challenge for all of us and will have an adverse effect on our ability to move forward in Afghanistan.” He said the concern is that a safe haven exists in Pakistan where “these fighters, these additional foreign fighters,” have shown up. He is also reported to have said, “If I were gong to pick the next attack to hit the US, it would come out of FATA”.

Two clear indications of Al Qaeda Taliban ability and intention of sizeably moving eastward from Swat, Chitral and Waziristan into Kashmir Valley via PoK or Northern Areas are at hand. One is the massive suicide bombing of Indian Embassy in Kabul for which New Delhi indicts Pakistani ISI. The loud-mouthed statement of Indian Security Adviser Mr. M.K. Narayanan that “the ISI should be destroyed” is an expression of frustration caused by the ISI – supported Taliban’s extended attacks, laying bare big lapses in Indian security arrangements in Kabul. Has he taken shelter behind Pentagon hawks?

The second indicator is alarmingly increasing jihadi attacks on Indian security forces in the Valley and in Doda region with particular reference to the landmine blast of July 13, which took a heavy toll of our troops near Narbal junction while an army convoy was on its move from Chowkibal to Srinagar. According to available reports, superior trained Pakistani Al Qaeda Taliban are filling the ranks of Kashmiri insurgents. Intelligence reports say they are using not only more sophisticated weaponry but also highly sensitive and most modern communication equipment that have the potential of making our Israeli-supplied monitoring apparatus rather ineffective. Recently Al Qaeda has brought Kashmir scenario under its radar for close surveillance.

Needless to remind that in the wake of PDP’s bitter opposition to the abandoned land Amarnath Shrine Board transfer deal, its chief had warned in very clear words that if the government did not cancel the deal, it would lead to widespread turmoil in Kashmir. The linkage is quite understandable.

However, the one and only redeeming factor in this disquieting scenario is the growing schism between Pakistani Taliban and Pakistan-based Al Qaeda Taliban. While the latter are religious zealots out to target the US and the Western civilization to which India remains clubbed in their political and strategic chemistry, the latter draws a definite line between religion and politics and is opposed to religion based terrorism. Actually this group is cooperating with the Pakistani government and joint anti-terrorism forces under the leadership of Hajji Nazeer from South Waziristan who runs the largest Pakistani Taliban network against Kabul. He had recently called a large meeting of local Pakistani Taliban commanders in which it was resolved to drive out foreign radicals like the Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs from South Waziristan. The Pakistani Taliban commanders in Bajaur, Mohmand and Khyber have lined up behind him in their support to joint Pakistan-US operations against Al Qaeda Taliban commanders like Baitullah Mahsud.  Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the powerful commander of North Waziristan, has been made head of the Pakistan Taliban in all Pakistan.

A new picture is gradually unfolding in Eastern Afghanistan. Kandahari clan of Taliban from Southeast is emerging as a non-radical trial resistance force deeply interested in restoration of classical tribal traditions of the Afghans. If they also join Hajji Nazeer, then Pakistan will have a lever against radical Al Qaeda Taliban’s cross border attacks in Afghanistan.

Obviously, Washington will wait to see the results of this new schism in Taliban structure, and adapt its ground strategy accordingly. If the non-radical Pakistani Taliban are able to make some headway in Waziristan, New Delhi could heave a sigh of relief in Kashmir. Pakistani Taliban as differentiated from Pakistani Al Qaeda Taliban, have said that they have no extra-territorial ambitions, and their main objective is to force the outsiders out their land and let the people remain as fiercely independent as they have been for centuries in the past.  Any measure of success of this new strategy in Waziristan is bound to have a far-reaching impact on Kashmir situation. This is very much in the mind of both New Delhi and Islamabad while they are engaged in bilateral peace talks including talks on Kashmir.

(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

Comments are closed.