A lot of Kashmiris have been agog with talk of “the Taliban are coming” over the past three weeks. However, since the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is refurbishing the Taliban as good, responsible, and inclusive guys, the Afghans that appear here are likely to wear a different label. The ISI is good at manufacturing and selling multiple brands.
Who'll Be the Key Players?
Men of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), old hands in the Kashmir jihad, will certainly be among those who turn up. Both groups were active against the US in Afghanistan but played a bigger role in Kashmir in the past.
The role of the ISKP (Islamic State – Khorasan Province) is nuanced, but it could well be under the influence of the most covert wings of the ISI.
Since the ISKP has already been positioned as anti-Taliban and anti-Haqqani, using that label for those Afghans who might turn towards India would let the ISI deny involvement.
After all, they’re even denying mentorship of the Taliban — with the support of the BBC.
The group called al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent obviously has cordial relations with the Taliban and the ISI, and it, too, could become the preferred vehicle for anti-India hostilities.
A ‘Ghazwat-ul-Hind’ War?
An article published a couple of weeks ago by War on the Rocks, a well respected US-based platform for security analysis, noted that “Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent had … changed the name of its magazine from Nawai Afghan Jihad (Voice of the Afghan Jihad) to Nawai Ghazwat-ul-Hind (Voice of the Conquest of India) early this year, indicating where its energies could be focused going forward”.
There is increased talk of a Ghazwat-ul Hind war, through which the conquest of India by Islamic forces is said to have been predicted. The term has been bandied about for a few years now, but one hears it more often on the ground in Kashmir now.
A well-travelled Kashmiri with relatives abroad was told that men in Pakistani pickets nearest the Line of Control (LoC) already include Afghans. Intelligence officers pooh-pooh that, but do seem concerned about the overall fallout of events in Afghanistan.
Even Ravinder Raina, the feisty BJP president in the Union Territory, recently addressed the threat, saying the Taliban would be wiped out if it made the mistake of turning this way.
However, the threat could be much larger. The Chinese may push in farther across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, and in the northeast too, in tandem with hostile action from the west.
For a decade now, I have highlighted the triad of threats to India’s national security from the possibility that Chinese and Pakistani aggression in tandem could dovetail with a mass uprising in the Valley. I have also predicted for a decade that the US would leave Afghanistan to the Taliban, and Afghans would then turn to Kashmir. Until early this summer, those in the security establishment generally scoffed at my predictions.
India’s security establishment must now not only wake up to the threat, but take a lesson from the speed with which the Taliban and other ISI associates and assets took over Afghanistan.
Things could develop pretty fast here, too, especially as the unsupported and besieged resistance in Panjshir falls.
The army must gear up for fundamentally different tactics to what they have experienced over the past three decades, even from the 1997 to 2001 period, when large numbers of Afghans participated in the Kashmir jihad.
The south Kashmir boys who have taken the field since 2009 in what I have called a “new militancy” in The Generation of Rage in Kashmir will seem like a school picnic in comparison with what might lie ahead.
The difference could be even more fundamental than when the fresh strategies of the “new militancy” fooled security honchos a decade ago. The Corps Commander of the time wrote happy articles after retiring about how militancy was over, since there was no activity on the Shamsabari range (which militants used to cross in the ‘90s for training in Pakistan).
But, unknown to him, a new militancy had risen under his nose in south Kashmir while he was Corps Commander. From 2010, the year Burhan Wani went underground, often well-educated and highly motivated boys snatched guns from police and the CRPF men and got trained within the Valley.
The demonstrations of 2008 were largely sponsored by local politicians and activists, including journalists. I believe Pakistan only took charge midway (through Masarat Alam) of the 2010 stone-pelting agitations, which had been spurred by security forces’ actions.
So complex were the wheels within wheels of that time that even top security honchos missed the wood for the trees. They thought they had an inside track on what was happening. They didn’t quite.
The Army is Gearing Up
The good news is that the army seems to be taking the current threat seriously in both Ladakh and Kashmir. A friend who is there tells me eastern Ladakh is now “like a fortress”, and a Kashmiri friend says new pickets and bunkers have come up in places like Lolab near Kashmir’s Line of Control over the past couple of weeks.
Kashmiris have also seen a lot of military hardware moving during the past few months.
Meanwhile, The Hindu reported this weekend that an intelligence officer revealed in Chennai that “a Central agency” had cautioned “all States and Central Armed Paramilitary Forces ... that armed terrorists owing allegiance to ISIS-K, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed could attempt to aggressively infiltrate into India, particularly Jammu & Kashmir”.
Maximum alertness is required in late October and November, especially if the ISI/Taliban consolidate control of Afghanistan this month. More likely, action could begin in spring 2022, perhaps from the east in late February, and in Jammu and Kashmir from March, or during Ramzan in April.
One should hope that nothing will happen, of course, but prepare we must.
(David Devadas is the author of 'The Story of Kashmir' and 'The Generation of Rage in Kashmir' (OUP, 2018). He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)