India fears renewed threat in Kashmir amid rise of Taliban

Authorities in New Delhi believe insurgents in the disputed territory could be boosted by the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan.

Burned effigy
Burned effigy

India’s leaders are anxiously watching the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, fearing that it will benefit Pakistan and feed an insurgency in the disputed region of Kashmir, where militants already have a foothold.

Lt Gen Deependra Singh Hooda, the former military commander for northern India between 2014 and 2016, said militant groups based across the border in Pakistan would “certainly try and push men” into Kashmir, following the Taliban victory in Afghanistan.

Lt Gen Hooda added it was too early to predict if any influx of fighters into Kashmir would be “in numbers that destabilise the security situation” and push the region into a military confrontation.

Sikh protesters
Sikh activists shout slogans against the Taliban and Pakistan (AP)

Neighbours India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir and both countries rule parts of the Himalayan region, but claim it in full.

Indian officials worry that Afghanistan under the Taliban could be a base for organising Islamist militants in Kashmir, many of whom are allied with Pakistan in their struggle against New Delhi.

The Indian government has called the Taliban Pakistan’s “proxy terrorist group”, and supported Afghanistan’s US-backed administration before it was overthrown in August.

Syed Salahuddin, the leader of an alliance of Kashmiri rebel groups, called the Taliban’s victory “extraordinary and historical” in a voice message shared across social media days after the fall of Kabul.

Mr Salahuddin, who is based in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, said he expected the Afghan group to aid Kashmir’s rebels.

Border force
India’s security force soldiers patrol at the with Pakistan in Kutch district (AP)

“Same way, in the near future, India too will be defeated by Kashmir’s holy warriors,” he added.

In the last few years, anger in Kashmir has deepened after the Indian government – led by a right-wing Hindu nationalist party – stripped the Muslim-majority region of its semiautonomous status.

Indian officials say that the Taliban’s rise could draw more recruits and weapons for Kashmiri fighters coming from the Pakistani side.

Pravin Sawhney, a military expert and editor of FORCE, a monthly magazine focused on India’s national security, said: “Pakistan’s geopolitical stature has risen with the coming of Taliban, and this will result in hardening of its position on Kashmir.”

Pakistan’s powerful spy chief, Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, travelled in early September to Kabul amid speculation that he was there to help in the formation of the new Taliban government.

Afghanistan protester
An Afghan refugee living in India wearing a scarf in the colours of the Afghanistan flag (AP)

Around the same time, India’s foreign secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, flew to Washington where he said the United States and his country were “closely watching Pakistan’s actions in Afghanistan”.

Ahead of the final US withdrawal, India was one of the first countries to evacuate its diplomats after Taliban fighters entered Kabul on August 15, fearing for the safety for its staff.

Indian officials maintain that Pakistan-based militant groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba, both believed to have helped the Taliban campaign against the US, could use Afghanistan as an operating base and training ground.

In 2019, Jaish-e-Mohammad took credit for the deadliest bombing in Kashmir’s insurgency – a blast that killed 40 Indian soldiers and brought the two nuclear-armed neighbours to the brink of war.

“We do have concerns about the free ingress that these two terrorist groups have had in Afghanistan,” Mr Shringla said in Washington.

“The role of Pakistan has to be seen in that context,” he added.

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