Conflict Early Warning

Afghan Mujahideen and J&K: How real is the threat?

27 Dec, 2013    ·   4227

There has been a serious concern, at times even a threat perception, that after the American withdrawal in 2014, the Afghan mujahideen would enter into J&K, as they did after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. How real is the threat? How relevant is the previous example to the contemporary situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan and J&K? Does the contemporary political and security situation in these three regions along with the attention of international community provide a space conducive for the Afghan mujahideen to enter (on their own) or being pushed (by Pakistan) into Kashmir?

Much of the Afghan mujahideen threat perception to J&K emanates from a perception that Afghanistan would unravel after 2014. In fact, it was the instability within Afghanistan in the early 1990s after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, which made the country unstable. This instability across the Durand Line also left Pakistan with a huge refugee population including  a substantial mujahideen residue. A section within the Pakistani Establishment and ISI saw this as an opportunity to support the militant struggle taking roots at that time in J&K in the early 1990s. 

It was the opportunist use and abuse of the Afghans within Pakistan by the Establishment and its ISI which resulted in J&K witnessing the mujahideen. During that time, neither the mujahideen were infused with a jihadi spirit to establish a caliphate all over the region, nor did they want to fight for the cause of an independent Kashmir. They were used and abused by the Pakistani Establishment as mercenaries. 

In retrospect, it would also appear that the pumping of Afghan mujahideen into J&K did not support what Pakistan wanted to do; in fact, it became counterproductive, as there was at that time and in fact even today a substantial section within J&K that would abhor what the Afghan mujahideen did to the social fabric at that time.

Second, is Afghanistan likely to be unstable after the withdrawal of international security forces (ISAF) after 2014? In this context, there is a mis-percpetion or cynicism that Afghanistan would collapse after the American withdrawal. Such a perception does not reflect the improved situation at the ground level. Today the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are much better trained and equipped than they were in the early 1990s. In fact, this is the best force that Afghanistan  could have had in the recent decade in terms of numbers, training, equipment and more importantly motivation. 

On the other hand, ever since their inception, the Taliban today is perhaps at its weakest position in terms of numbers, second tier leadership, infrastructural support and motivation. Unlike the 1990s, there is no Taliban wave, that could sweep province after province. In fact, the Taliban is using suicide attacks and IEDs as a major strategy against the ANSF, rather than any coordinated conventional offensive. Clearly, the Taliban is on a defensive and is unlikely to run over the ANSF militarily after 2014.

The above does not mean the ANSF would succeed to completely remove the presence of Taliban from the Afghan soil. Taliban would still remain an important threat for Karzai and any future President; but this threat from the Taliban to the government in Kabul may not be as grave as it was in the 1990s. Afghanistan is likely to witness an ugly stability and not an all out civil war between every factions.

Third, the situation within Pakistan, and the relationship between the Establishment and Afghan militants are not the same today, as it was in the early 1990s. Thanks to the American support to Pakistan as a frontline state in the 1980s, there was an enormous clout that Islamabad and Rawalpindi had over the Afghan fighters across the Durand Line. Thanks to the infrastructural and monetary support, the Afghan mujahideen, especially the pashtuns were totally at the mercy of Pakistan in fighting the soviet troops. Pakistan could influence multiple pashtun factions, arm them and provide them with sufficient financial support against the Soviet troops in the 1980s. Except perhaps Ahmed Shah Massoud, the entire Afghan mujahideen leadership was based in Pakistan.

Today, the situation for Pakistan is totally different. The TTP, primarily led by the pashtun fighters from the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) is waging a violent onslaught against the Pakistan Establishment. Except for the Haqqani network, the ISI seems to have lost its hold over the pashtun Taliban. Even the links between Mullah Omar and Pakistan seems to be in a delicate balance, though the former is believed to station in Quetta. 

If Pakistan has to divert the Afghan mujahideen into J&K after 2014, which of the above faction is going to be used as a fodder to Islamabad’s cause? Will TTP be ready to fight Pakistan’s cause in J&K, when the group under its new leader Mullah Fazlullah is even more hostile to the Establishment? Will Pakistan push the Quetta Shura and Haqqani network after 2014 into Kashmir? Both these factions are likely to be pinned down in fighting the ANSF, rather than shifting to another region, especially J&K. Neither the Quetta Shura nor the Haqqani network is buoyed with a jihadi fervour to import their brand of Islam in the rest of world; rather, they would be keen to fight within Afghanistan.

If Pakistan wants to use non-State actors, it would rather make use of the Lashkar network, rather than the Afghan mujahideen. The militant threat to J&K would come from Pakistan rather than Afghanistan.

Finally, is there a space within J&K, that would accommodate Afghan mujahideen as a strategy? To a large extent, there seems to be a political approach, even if it means use of pressure and violence in the form of hartals and stone pelting, rather than any predominant support for militancy. The society within J&K does not seem to be inclined to allow militancy to take over and change the existing discourse vis-a-vis the State. Certainly, it is not look for any external support from the Afghan Mujahideen.

Based on the above, it appears that the threat from Afghan Mujahideen to J&K is exaggerated and does not support the ground reality in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir. Perhaps, such a threat perception is based rather on history, than on the present regional environment. Or, perhaps there are other reasons to project such a threat. Whatever may be the reasons for the threat perceptions, let it not derail the actual issues at the ground level demanding real time response.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir