Taliban - Emerging Threat to The Kashmir Valley

October 1998

Since 1990, Pakistan, in her quest to destabilize India, and to establish its hegemony and control over Afghanistan encouraged the setting-up of a chain of 'madarsa' owing allegiance to the Jamaat-ul-Ulemah-e-Islam (JUI) - Pakistan. The rapid growth of the JUI madarsas was primarily on account of the official patronage provided to Maulana Fazlur Rahman by Benazir Bhutto, the then PM, due to her domestic compulsions. She was keen to use JUI as a counter poise to the Anti-Government stance of the JEI. The madarsas soon started recruiting young boys of impressionable age not only from the areas adjoining Afghanistan but also from Karachi, Multan as well as Punjabi speaking boys from Jhang, Lyallpur and Sialkot for training in HuA camps located along Pakistani- border in the Khost province notably, Khalid-ibn-Walid, Al-Badar (i) and Afghan(ii) Pakhtia (the most formidable one by the Madarsa-e-Haqqania, an HuA affiliate) and Miran-Shah in Pakistan. Though, the initial funding of this effort came from the ISI, 70% of the arms supplied by CIA for the Afghan war, was diverted to equip these militants. The Taliban emerged out of these efforts based upon the Pakistani establishment's objective for achieving legitimacy for a well chalked out plan at promoting the cause of 'Jehad' in Kashmir.

The Kashmiri people's disillusionment with the secessionist forces and the inception (October 1996) of the democratically elected Farooq Abdullah Government in J&K, have induced the Kashmiri people to repose faith in the democratic process as a panacea for all the ills of the militancy years. With a fewer Kashmiri boys joining militancy, in a planned manner, the character and composition of militancy is undergoing a change in the hands of the Pakistani ISI, which is increasingly relying upon the foreign mercenaries to keep the pot boiling in the valley. Recently compiled statistics reveal that the foreign component in the militancy has reached a whopping 49% during 1996-97 in comparison to 7% during 1992-93. Today, in tune with the Pakistani ISIs strategy, the militancy in Kashmir has been totally handed over to the foreign mercenaries totaling around 1500 (In the Valley - 700 and Jammu region 800).

There has been a change in the tactics also, which is today focused upon carrying out attacks on Security Forces and individual targets. As a result, till Sept. 1998 around 146 Security Forces have been killed in 814 attacks in comparison 227 SF deaths during 1997, out of a total of 1168 attacks. More over, in the Jammu region efforts of Pan-Islamic outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), has been at carrying out mass killings of Hindus to communalise the situation. Since January 1998 over 130 members of minority community have been killed in J&K which includes, massacres at Wandhama, 23 killed - January 26, Prankote - 29 killed - April 17 and Chapnari 25 killed - June 19.

Further, the extension of the operations of foreign mercenaries from Kashmir to Poonch, Mendhar, Rajouri, Doda, Kishtwar and lately to Chamba in Himachal Pradesh, signals the new Pakistani strategy of terrorizing and forcing the Hindu minorities from these areas. Pakistan also seeks to acquire control over the strategic and high altitude areas in Jammu and Kashmir for carrying out its future offensive against the Indian forces in the State. By pushing in mercenaries and simultaneously shelling the border areas along the LOC, Pakistan has sought to project Kashmir as a flash point in South Asia bringing it into the focus of world attention.

The Pan Islamic outfits presently operating in J&K includes the Harkat-ul- Ansar (HuA), Lashkar-e-Tobia (LeT), Harkat-ul-Mujhideen (HuM) and the Tehrik-e -Jehad-e-Islami. While, the LeT was propped up by the Pakistani ISI to countervail the increasing influence of the HuA and its affiliates like the Sipah-e- Sahabaa, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi(LeJ); the emergence of the Taliban owing its existence and drawing inspiration from the same Deobandi fountain head like the HuA, had brought it under closer scrutiny of the Pakistani establishment of pursuing a vicious sectarian agenda resulting in the killing of a number of Shias during the last few years. With the Pakistani establishment failing to contain this sectarian agenda of the HuA, a direct fall out has been spawning of a gun culture which has raised a level of violence to dangerous levels. It is this monolith of Taliban comprising of thousands of fundamentalists, bursting at the seams, which holds the greatest threat to the Kashmir.

The emergence of Ossama ibn Laden and recent attacks at US facilities in Africa proves the pan Islamic thrust of the 'movement'. An ideology which defines Jehad not only as a mission for the cause of the holy war but also to cleanse Islam of all its peripherals influences, finds an ideal ground in the Kashmir Valley to justify its 'ideology'. The Valley, known for its syncretic traditions including, Sufi Islam would continue to attract Pan Islamic outfits like the Taliban pursuing its nefarious agenda. With the people of Kashmir slowly getting disenchanted with militancy, their support to foreign mercenaries pursuing an Islamic agenda appears to be remote. Moreover, the Kashmiri psyche is also full of the Ghory Stories of Afghan conquests of medieval times, which would come in the way of any overt support to the foreign mercenaries. However, with the Kashmiri psyche not in total disagreement with a vicarious support to their cause the role of the foreign mercenaries in sustaining the militancy J&K would continue for some more time. The peaceful urban centers in the Valley and the continuing violence in the interiors, and higher reaches where most of the foreign mercenaries continue to stay holed up, is a strong indicator of this phenomenon.

The Taliban war machine which was initially raised and supported under the Pakistani ISIs patronage has since significantly widened its area of influence in Afghanistan and has reached a stage of considerable autonomy. Today, majority of the provinces in Aghanistan including Mazar-e-Sharief have fallen to its might. Its transgressions in the South Western provinces of Farah Nirmuz since 1995, escalated tensions with Iran which today, has reached as dangerous threshold after the killing of Iranian diplomats on August 8, bringing both the countries at the door step or war. The Taliban cadres who number over 30,000 are not only ideologically rooted in the Pan Islamic Deobandi traditions but are also battle hardened and well trained in weapons engaged in high intensity conflicts. Though, comprising of majority Pushtun speaking Afghans the Taliban also has equal mix of Baluchis, Punjabis and others including 6,000 'Afghanised' Arab nationals.

With the conduct (May 1998) of the nuclear tests by the India and Pakistani and subsequent internationalization of the Kashmir issue, the threshold of violence has definitely gone up in J&K as witnessed in the recent escalation of border firing and the Pakistani army's renewed attacks in the Kargil and Kupwara sectors. Further, some of the recent recoveries from militants including a cache at Badgam district on Sept. 10 which contained sophisticated weaponry and communication equipments indicates the direction in which the Pakistani ISI is vigorously pursuing its Kashmir agenda. With the US sanctions bringing the Pakistani economy on the verge of a collapse, Nawaz Sharif is today not only caught between the increasing Talibisaton of the Pakistani society but also the Frankenstein of Taliban asserting itself in Afghanistan. Nawaz Sharief's taking recourse in declaring Pakistan as a Islamic state, visibly under pressure from the fundamentalists elements following the US missile attack at the Khost camps of Ossama ibn Laden, the Pakistani society is likely to witness another round of exacerbating sectarian conflicts.

Given the emerging scenario in Pakistan, and the back drop of internationalisation of the Kashmir issue, it would be quite reasonable to expect an unopposed channelisation of the Talibans manpower and resources towards the Kashmir Valley as the chances of co-opting them into any civilised society appears to be a remote possibility in future. Moreover, the Pakistani establishment's renewed efforts at projecting Kashmir as the emerging nuclear flash point in South Asia, a manifestation of the pursuance of a desperate foreign policy of brinkmanship resorted to deflect popular internal discontentment; has however, further strengthened the role of pan Islamic outfits in the region. As far as ISI is concerned, upping the ante of pan Islamisim as the ideological basis of the 'movement', would be to legitimise the intrusion of the battle hardened Taliban into the Kashmir Valley.

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