India fears Taliban fallout in occupied Kashmir

If Taliban can defeat world's largest military, we see possibility we too can win our freedom, says local businessman


AFP October 16, 2021
Indian soldiers patrol during an operation in Srinagar. PHOTO: AFP

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi set out his Taliban worries to world leaders this week, Indian forces staged raids and battled freedom fighters, who he fears could be emboldened by Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan.

About 40 people have been killed in shootings and clashes in the two months in the Himalayan region since the Taliban overran Kabul on August 15.

Occupied valley's Sikh and Hindu communities have been targeted in the gun battles in which many soldiers and separatists were also left dead.

Read more: India threatens 'surgical strikes' under cover of false flag terror activity in IIOJK

India has not openly blamed the Taliban takeover for the uptick in violence, but it has intensified patrols near Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and fortified some army camps, according to residents and security officials who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.

Modi told a G-20 summit in Rome earlier this week that international efforts were needed to make sure Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for "radicalisation and terrorism".

He has also raised India's concerns with US President Joe Biden.

In September, he told the UN General Assembly that no country must be allowed to use Afghanistan "as a tool for its own selfish interests" – a comment widely seen as a reference to Pakistan, the chief backer of the Taliban's 1996-2001 regime.

This time, Islamabad has not yet recognised the new Taliban government.

India was a backer of the Soviet-puppet government in Kabul that was overthrown by Mujahideen forces in 1992.

In 2001, it helped the US-led forces that toppled the Taliban. And it was a major donor to the government that the Taliban crushed in August.

India worries that weapons and fighters could reach the occupied Jammu and Kashmir region.

"What we can say and learn from the past is that when the previous Taliban regime was in power, that time definitely we had foreign terrorists of Afghan origin in Jammu and Kashmir," said India's military chief of staff General MM Naravane.

Also read: India urged to resume dialogue with Pakistan 'amid threat of regional isolation'

"So there are reasons to believe that the same thing might happen once again."

Protests are virtually impossible in IIOJK because of restrictions imposed by New Delhi since the region's semi-autonomous status was revoked in 2019.

But some in the region have quietly welcomed the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan as a victory against the odds that they too can aspire to one day.

"If they can defeat the world's largest military power, we see a possibility that we too can win our freedom," one businessman in Srinagar told AFP, declining to be named.

A former separatist 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."

Given India's inhumane clampdown on IIOJK, Naravane and other military chiefs are confident that Delhi can cope with any surge.

But speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior security official in IIOJK said: "there is some panic" inside the security establishment.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Wilson Centre in Washington, said Afghanistan's new rulers could inspire "stepped up unrest" in IIOJK.

Taliban officials have said they want to maintain trade and other ties with India, meaning that some kind of contact will have to be maintained.

"The Taliban itself won't agitate for unrest in IIOJK, but those it is aligned with likely will do so," he said.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a columnist and security analyst in Pakistan, said he saw no reason the Taliban would want to "deliberately agitate the Indian authorities".

Their victory, he believes, is more important for the signal it sends to "young Kashmiri boys and girls watching the images from Afghanistan".

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