Fingers Crossed

Almost everybody in academia and politics that Khalid Bashir Gura spoke to, the response over Kabul happens was simple – wait and watch

PAGD leaders addressing a press conference in Srinagar on Tuesday August 24,2021. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

What would be the fallout of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan on Kashmir? This question gained a quick currency after the Taliban took over the desert country. But as of now, few are ready to stick their neck out and predict how the situation might evolve in the weeks and months to come.  The common refrain is to wait and watch

“It is much too early to say how it will impact the security of Jammu and Kashmir. There is much speculation in India about how the Taliban will be edged into Kashmir, speculation that assumes that this Taliban is the same as the one twenty years ago,” said Prof Siddiq Wahid, a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi and former VC Islamic University of Science and Technology. “But the Taliban have not stood still in history and many informed analysts are pointing out that they have changed, albeit not without internal disagreement between “extremists” and “moderates”.  Besides, the world has also changed dramatically as has Pakistan. These factors must be considered.”

According to Wahid, New Delhi has long defined its interest in Afghanistan as one of opposing Pakistan’s influence there.“It is an unrealistic position and that seems to be continuing, with no change,” he said. “The impact will be minimal on Jammu and Kashmir, and the most we can do is watch and wait.”

Prof Noor Ahmad Baba, former head of the political science department at the University of Kashmir, who did a wonderful book on the evolution of OIC, believes the Kabul situation will impact indirectly the security and politics of Kashmir.

“Pakistan has been relieved from that front and it can now focus on this front (Kashmir). It is a strategic advantage for Pakistan which India has lost,” Bab said. Baba expects that the Taliban will not come to Kashmir as they are pragmatic enough to focus on their own issues and problems in their country. “However, people who had out of solidarity joined Taliban from other parts may trickle down to Kashmir.”

Baba, however, pointed out that Kashmir is not Afghanistan. “Its geography varies and borders are sealed. Also given the security presence, any incursion will be difficult. In a larger strategic sense, there will be an impact but no one will come to Kashmir to fight,” he said. “We still have to wait and watch. In future, Afghanistan’s stabilization will mean economic and strategic advantage to Pakistan.”

Taliban In Zurmat (Paktia), where they took over the US-supplied vehicles and war infrastructure from the Afghan forces who surrendered after a protracted siege ending early July 2021. Photo: Twitter

Prof Amitabh Mattoo, political advisor to former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, and an expert on international relations said that it was too early to say whether the Taliban has changed from its earlier avatar and whether the new regime will have an impact on Kashmir. “It is too premature right now,” he said.

Sheikh Showkat Husain, a political analyst and former head of the department of law and dean of the school of legal studies at the Central University of Kashmir said that one cannot say anything conclusively as to whether the Taliban victory will have any impact on the security and polity of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Taliban is yet to fully establish control over Afghanistan and still needs international recognition. “Their relations with India will also decide the future,” Dr Hussain said.

Echoing the view of Baba, Hussain said that Pakistan will be relaxed as on the western front of their border will be calm now. “Taliban seem to be in good books of Pakistan and the departure of the US forces will relieve them and they can shift focus on the eastern border,” he said. After the reading down of Article 370, the alienation has grown in Kashmir as has been manifested by the people’s response to various events impacting India.

Guarded politicians

The political class is also responding in the same terms to the change of guard in Kabul.

“The recent developments in Afghanistan seem to be a part of the long-drawn negotiations between the US and the Taliban. It is still an evolving situation and too early to predict whether it is going to have any impact on Kashmir or not,” Adnan Ashraf Mir, the spokesperson of Sajjad Lone led the People’s Conference said. “The Taliban takeover begins yet another chapter in the conflict-ridden history of Afghanistan that will most certainly have an impact not just in the region but outside of the region as well.”

Kashmir’s grand old party, the National Conference, has a different take. It believes there is a constant paranoia being manufactured that the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan will result in a huge spike in militancy in Jammu and Kashmir.

Only a year back, nobody was interested in the Taliban and now everybody wants to have a meeting. In this photograph, the Taliban are seen getting the most of the media limelight.

“Such environment is deliberately being created to water down the rights of the residents of Jammu and Kashmir. There is no factual basis to it. The question is, has the LoC suddenly stopped being there?” said Ifra Jan, the party’s new spokesperson. “It is the government that claims that there is zero infiltration across the border because of good infrastructure, so how will the permeability of the border get suddenly affected?”

Naeem Akthar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) elder and the former minister said that it was for New Delhi to deal with the emerging situation in Afghanistan. According to him, political voices from Kashmir have been muted as people can’t talk even about small matters like having a road or a lane.

“Voice of a Kashmiri doesn’t matter now, even if we talk about Kashmir only, how come about any Kashmiri’s opinion about Afghanistan will be taken seriously,” Akhter said.

Akhter’s party spokesman, Mohit Bhan, however, said that they hoped the Taliban should not have any implications in Jammu and Kashmir. “But it is too early to say anything about this,” Bhan added.

Ghulam Ahmad Mir, President, Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee, expressed his inability to comment on Kabul’s impact on Kashmir since it was “an international matter”.

“It is not a matter happening in Andhra Pradesh that I will give a reaction. Also, India’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister has not spoken about it,” Mir said.

Almost on similar terms NC senior Spokesperson, Imran Nabi Dar said it was a question of national security and that his party has nothing to say about it currently.

CPI (M) leader and PAGD spokesperson Mohammad YousufTarigami like others said that it was too early to draw conclusions as to how the regime change in Afghanistan will impact the region and Kashmir.

“However, it is a big change. The US has been forced to leave and the US-backed government in Kabul has collapsed,” he said.  “Taliban have to respect human rights and ensure women rights. However, it is too early to say anything.”

Kashmir spokesperson of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) Altaf Thakur said that India cannot change neighbours and expects the Taliban to play a friend’s role.

“Pakistan will try to play mischief after the Taliban takeover,” Thakur said. “Time will tell how Taliban will behave and whether their claims and deeds are in sync.”

An Exception

Perhaps, the PDP president, Mehbooba Mufti was the lone exception who talked about the Taliban takeover publicly and loudly. Talking to her party workers in Kulgam, she suggested Delhi to learn a lesson from the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.

“Patience needs courage. What people of Jammu and Kashmir are enduring…the day they lose patience, you also will not remain — you will disappear,” The Indian Express quoted Mufti saying. “I am telling you again and again: don’t test our patience; understand and correct (yourself).” Insisting that Article 370 must be restored and Jammu and Kashmir brought back to the status of status quo ante, she added: “Understand what is happening in the neighbourhood…. Such a big power — America — had to fold their beds and return….You (the Centre) still have an opportunity. The way (former PM Atal Bihari) Vajpayee-ji started a dialogue — with outside (Pakistan) and here (in J&K) — you also (should) start a dialogue.”

This triggered a harsh reaction from BJP general secretary Tarun Chugh, who said Ms Mufti was daydreaming. “Mungerilal was dreaming at night, but Mehbooba Mufti does it in the day. They will never come true,” Chug was quoted saying by The Telegraph, insisting he referred PAGD as ‘Gupkar Gang’. Chig added: “It was Jammu and Kashmir’s misfortune that these dynasties (PDP and National Conference) killed development here and whenever public solicited response they started speaking in the language of China and Pakistan. Now they are talking about Taliban. It is a nation run by (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi ji. Anyone who does any misadventure will be taught a lesson. Pakistan has been already taught a lesson.”

(The report had some newsy additions in its online version after it was published in the magazine.)

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