Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Oct 20, 2021
Militants, most probably backed by the Pakistani state, are trying to entrap India in a three-front war
Introducing Kashmir to the New Geopolitical and Regional Realities

The security scenario in Kashmir has been changing quite swiftly. While some have credited this to the Taliban’s victory, others have dubbed this as the ‘Kashmir of the 90s’. But there is no direct correlation between these two episodes as of now. True, the Taliban’s victory might have boosted the Kashmiri militants and their supporters’ morale and ideology, but it would be an exaggeration to solely credit the former. It would also be a complete miscalculation to compare this fast-changing security scenario to the 90s.

There are three possibilities for the recent infiltration and soft-target attacks in Kashmir and all are interlinked. First, these increasing activities indicate the start of the annual winter offensive. Second, a battle of narratives continues to unfold. As the army and the government reckons to deliver the messages of normalcy, the militants are determined to do the pole-opposite. Sending a strong message further became a priority, as the surrendered Lashkar-E-Taiba (LeT) militants appreciated the army’s efforts in securing and normalising the Valley. The Resistance Front’s recent attacks (an offshoot of LeT) against the minority communities can be read in this context.

By 1996, Pakistan had brokered the Osama-Taliban relationship and used the same to retain the Khost camps and seek fighters and funds for their Kashmiri cause.

The third explanation seems more complicated and dangerous for India. The terrorists and their mentors are entrapping India in a three-front war—two from Pakistan and China, and the other two halves from the Kashmiri secessionists and a hostile Afghanistan. To explicate, it is vital to trace the past and the future of the Af-Pak-Kashmir nexus.

Back to 90s: The Age-old nexus

The militant outbreak in Kashmir is strongly intertwined with Afghanistan’s Anti-Soviet Mujahideen era. Many extremist foreign fighters (non-Pakistani) had entered Kashmir during the Afghan civil war. Starting from 1992-93, the Pakistani state and the government had begun using their political parties and organisations, such as Jamaat-e-Ulema Islam (JuI), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ahle Hadith (JAH), to radicalise and recruit fighters for their Kashmir cause. For these organisations, their established logistics, infrastructure and Afghan Mujahideen networks came in handy (refer to Table 1). Hence, Khost in Afghanistan became a common ground to train the Kashmiri militants.   

Major Pakistani political parties/organisations Ideology/ moment Major extremist organisations in Afghanistan Major Terrorist organisations in Kashmir
Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Islamism Hizb-E-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) Hizbul Mujahdin (HM)
Jamait ul Ulema Islam (JuI) Deobandi Islam The Taliban; Haqqani network Jaish-E-Muhammad (JeM) Harkat-ul-Ansar (HuA) Harkat-ul-Jehadi-Islam (HuJI) Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM)
Jamait-e-Ahle-Hadis (JAH) Ahl-e-Hadith Markaz-Dawa-ul-Irshad (MDI) - (limited presence) Lashkar-E-Taiba

Source: The Lost Rebellion – Manoj Joshi

The ISI-backed JI and HIG started supporting HM. Gulbuddin Hikemeteyar, the leader of the HIG even sent his men to train and fight alongside the former. Similarly, the government and (later) the ISI-backed JuI facilitated the Harkat groups’ interactions with the Taliban and the Haqqani network. The same organisations (Haqqanis and the Taliban) further helped the establishment of JeM in 2000, along with Al-Qaeda. They also helped its subsequent subsumption of the Harkat factions, their infrastructure, logistics and manpower. The JAH’s MDI and its armed wing LeT also enjoyed limited objectives and operational space in Afghanistan. By 1996, Pakistan had brokered the Osama-Taliban relationship and used the same to retain the Khost camps and seek fighters and funds for their Kashmiri causeBut, despite having a common patron state, these Kashmiri militant outfits operated and fought independently.

A blooming blood(y)line

A great deal of cooperation amongst these extremist outfits surfaced only post-2001. And the result is evident in both Afghanistan and Kashmir. This cooperation was for two reasons: One, mutual hostility towards the United States (US); and two, these terrorist organisations were forced to cooperate and co-exist in the North-West, as the US intensified its anti-terror pressure on Pakistan.

By 2008, a common enemy—the US—had united all these extremist organisations. Jaish pledged their support to fight the West alongside the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda in 2007, and Lashkar, largely limited to Kashmir, decided to do the same in concert. Both the organisations managed to have their presence in Afghanistan and have built a great deal of operational and training synergy and cooperation with others, including the Haqqanis, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The beginning of such interactions might have also been an additional trust-builder for the LeT, JeM, and HM cooperation, that came into effect during Kashmir’s new militancy phase.

This collaboration possesses the potential to change Lashkar and Jaish's cadre strength and quality as well. Historically, both the outfits have large recruits from Punjab, Sindh and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). But, by operating in Afghanistan, North-West Pakistan, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, these organisations have expanded and shared their influence and logistics with other locally well-entrenched outfits. This poses a major and direct challenge to Kashmiri militancy, where unlike the ’90s, most of these Pakistani and Afghani organisations share greater loyalty, unity and resources. Hence, the regions ripe for the Afghan organisations' recruitment and training are now open to the anti-Indian terrorist organisations. And these battle-hardened fighters can prove to be further destructive and tactical when compared to the local Jaish and Lashkar recruits, largely being used as cannon fodder.

Al-Qaeda and the ISIS

The new militancy phase of Kashmir had also given birth to Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH)—an affiliate of Al-Qaeda and Wilayat-Al-Hind (IS Kashmir)—an affiliate of ISIS. They have prioritised the merger of Kashmir with their respective Islamic Caliphates and have been vocal against Pakistani terror organisations and their nation-oriented Jihad. Yet, both lack their support base, as their cadres often trickle down or shift from LeT, JeM, and HM, for their ideological and organisational differences. Thus, even at their peaks, both AGH and IS Kashmir, had not more than 12 recruits each.

By operating in Afghanistan, North-West Pakistan, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, these organisations have expanded and shared their influence and logistics with other locally well-entrenched outfits.

Regardless of the strength, these organisations’ network, recruitment and propaganda extend throughout India, unlike any other Pakistani terrorist outfit. Evidently, both Ansar and Wilayat have claimed responsibility for recruiting a Telangana-local for their Kashmiri cause. Recently, the AGH networks were also traced and arrested in Lucknow, while ISIS handlers linked to IS Kashmir continue to promote ISIS propaganda in local languages throughout India. The recruitment pool for such organisations will only increase as Salafi and Wahabi ideologies continue to make their way through India. 

The Taliban’s re-emergence will further embolden AGH and Wilayat’s activities. The ISIS’s increasing influence in Afghanistan will position their core organisational base in India’s neighbourhood. This will mandate the former to rebreathe energy into Wilayat in terms of finance and manpower, helping it entrench in the Valley through local, foreign or other Indian recruits.  This will also create an unhealthy competition for local recruits, resources and over ground workers (OGW) with other Pakistani organisations.

On the other hand, Al-Qaeda will use the Taliban regime to revive and rectify its weakened global and organisational position, naturally struggling against ISIS. This priority will leave its local affiliate, AGH, striving to stay relevant, especially after being wiped out twice. This will leave them to continue working with JeM and other Pakistani organisations despite ideological differences, a phenomenon that emerged first in 2019.

As Afghanistan enters a new great game, the Pakistani establishment and the militants are doing their best to entrap India in a three-front war scenario.

The Future of Terrorism:

These prevalent and potential cooperations (barring the IS-Kashmir) indicate that the militancy in the region is far from over; and also brings us back to the third explanation. After the revocation of Article 370, Kashmiri militancy has undergone severe stress and repression. All that the stakeholders wanted was to wait for a favourable geopolitical and regional order to unfold. In this context, The Taliban’s victory comes as a sheer blessing. With an idealist, unreformed yet cautious Taliban ruling Afghanistan, the Kashmiri militants and their mentors are now eager to win new sympathy, safe havens, manpower, and financial and logistical support from their brethren.

Subsequently, the militants are willingly inviting the wrath of the Indian state through infiltration, soft targeting and the killing of minorities. This would destabilise the passive peace and maximise non-militant violence in Kashmir. Thus, attracting the attention and sympathy of extremist elements in Afghanistan and making it difficult for the Taliban to sustain their cautious policy. As Afghanistan enters a new great game, the Pakistani establishment and the militants are doing their best to entrap India in a three-front war scenario. It is for India, from here on, to strike a cautious balance in its domestic security and foreign policy.

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Aditya Gowdara Shivamurthy

Aditya Gowdara Shivamurthy

Aditya Gowdara Shivamurthy is an Associate Fellow with ORFs Strategic Studies Programme. He focuses on broader strategic and security related-developments throughout the South Asian region ...

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