Kashmir: Echoes of 1989

September 30, 2013 7:25 pm

The Indian-administered state of Kashmir can be described as nothing less but a Gordian knot. “The man who unties this knot will become the King of Asia” said the Greek god, Zeus. When Alexander The Great marched into Gordium, he untied the knot with his sword. The geo-political knot that is Kashmir seems to be following the same end result.  As the concerns over Islamic Militants returning to the valley after fighting a 12 year war in Afghanistan grow, and as clashes resume between the Indian Military and Pakistani army, it seems that this knot will be untied with the sword alone. Unfortunately the sword not only deepens the wound of the age-old rivalry between two of South Asia’s heavyweight nations but it will fall upon those embittered inhabitants of Kashmir who have lost so much in this conflict already.

On August 6th 2013, five Indian soldiers were killed in an overnight ambush near the Kashmir Border. Although the Indian Army have accused the Pakistani Army of joining Islamic militants and carrying out the attack, a Pakistani Military official said to the BBC that “no fire took place from their side.” Subsequently more skirmishes across the de-facto border has lead to the deaths of two Pakistani soldiers, and left three others wounded in what Pakistani Military told Al-Jazeera as “unprovoked shelling” from Indian Soldiers.  In response to the initial killings of the Indian Soldiers, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, stated that “such incidents do no help efforts to normalise or even improve relations with Pakistan and call in to question the Pakistan government’s recent overtures.”.

Crossfire between both parties at the border was never a really a thing of the past. Clashes between both troops have been sporadic over the past few years to say the least but the implications now could change. Will the recent border skirmishes, eruption of clashes between Kashmiri protestors and the Indian Military, and the withdrawal of US troops from after a bloody 12 year war in Afghanistan drag Militant groups such as the likes of Hizbul-a-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Lashkar-e-Taiba – the latter most notable for the attacks carried out on Indian Parliament in 2001 and the Mumbai Terror attacks in 2008 – from their nests in Pakistan to a region which they are no strangers to when it comes to waging war?

It’s not an absolute certainty. But if we look back in time and go back to 1989 when Islamic Militant Insurgency in Kashmir led to one of the bloodiest decades in the region, we must consider that the insurgency began as soon as defeated soviet troops marched their way out of Afghanistan. Now, as American troops trickle out of Afghanistan, there are growing concerns that Islamic Militants will be flocking back to the ‘Paradise on Earth.’

A botched suicide bombing on 3rd August 2013, outside the Indian consulate in the Eastern city of Afghanistan, Jalalabad,  killed 9 civilians and left 23 injured – this attack might just be a warning sign of things to come. It was not however the first time that an Indian Mission has been attacked in Afghanistan. The Indian embassy in Kabul was targeted in a similar fashion in 2008 and 2009.

“With the Americans leaving Afghanistan, the restraint on the Pakistani security/jihad establishment is going too; We are concerned about 2014 in either scenario. If the Jihadis (Islamist militants) claim success in Afghanistan, they could turn their attention to us. Equally, if they fail, they will attack in wrath” said a former top official at India’s research and analyst wing.

J.P Singh the Police Chief for Northern Border operations told Reuters that although the police and army have stopped most attempted Militant crossings this year, India is still preparing for an influx. “”(Pakistan’s) agents and their protégés, the militants, are getting disengaged from the Afghan border and they have nowhere else to keep them and engage them, other than to push them to Kashmir,” Singh said.”Their presence inside Pakistan is dangerous for the internal security of Pakistan.

As for the withdrawal process in Afghanistan, the current number of troops on the ground stands at 63,000.  However according to the New York Times the numbers will reduce to 34,000 by February 2014. Although US and Afghan officials have discussed leaving behind a small ‘residual’ force to train Afghans to tackle insurgencies, the “zero option” in which US government has proposed to withdraw all troops by the end of 2014 has become more likely as relations between Hamid Karzai and Barack Obama soured after Taliban Peace talks which were held in July.  Hamid Karzai had accused The United States Army of killing innocent civilians but then accused the US Administration of trying to negotiate a separate peace deal with both Taliban and their supporters in Pakistan, leaving Afghanistan exposed to their enemies.

There is no doubt about the lack of love between Hamid Karzai and the Pakistani government – the latter of which Karzai has continuously accused of fueling Taliban insurgencies throughout the war. The claim that Pakistan’s shadowy intelligence service, ISI, has given militant outfits Carte blanche to use Pakistan as a safe haven, is not a new accusation. The American administrations during the war had grown mistrustful of Pakistan and their non-existent efforts to reign in Militants who were aiding the Taliban.

Pakistan on the other hand has grown too wary about Hamid Karzai’s friendly relations with their old foe. Pakistan sees India’s expansive diplomacy in Afghanistan as a ploy to disrupt it from the rear as it battles its own Islamist Militancy and separatist forces. As trade relations between India and Afghanistan burgeon and the assistance provided to Afghan Forces continue, Pakistan claims that “it heightens the sense of encirclement.” In response to India’s Allegations about Pakistan creating trouble in Afghanistan and the Kashmir border, a Pakistani Foreign Ministry official stated “I’m shocked by these allegations. Pakistan has its own insurgency to deal with. It has no appetite for confrontations abroad. If anything, we are looking at our mistakes from the past very critically. These accusations are baseless. India needs to act with more maturity and avoid this sort of propaganda.”

But what have the Pakistani Government done in order to reign in Militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba? Lashkar-e-Taiba, founded in 1990, have training camps spread across Pakistan and Azad Kashmir. Despite being banned by Pakistan in 2002, the group disguise themselves under names such as Al-Mansoorian and Jamat Ud-Dawa. They currently have camps, recruitment centers and offices in Muzaffarabad, Lahore, Peshawar,

Hafiz Muhammed sayeed (right) accused of Masterminding Mumbai attacks

Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Karachi and many other cities. The group has been financially and logistically supported by the ISI for many years although the current state of co-operation between the intelligence agency and the Militant group is unclear.  However two operatives from the group who were held in the US over the Mumbai attacks have testified to receiving support  for the attacks from Pakistani Military officials, who were suspected to be ISI officers. The group’s founder, Hafez Sayeed, a Pakistani Islamic Scholar who was alleged to have been the mastermind behind the Mumbai attacks, still roams freely inside Pakistan where he continues to preach to thousands.

In response to Indian Kashmir conflict, Sayeed stated to the Indian Weekly that “Full-scale armed Jihad (holy war) will begin soon in Kashmir after American forces withdraw from Afghanistan.”

A veteran Let fighter told Reuters that “Jihad is being stimulated and various militant outfits are cooperating with each other under the platform of the United Jihad Council”

This year alone, 103 casualties in Militant-related violence were recorded in Indian Kashmir, compared to 57 in 2012 for the same period. The Indian Military officials claim that there are no more than 200 Militants in the region of Srinagar, however according to Indian Defence Ministry statistics, the number of militants attempting to cross the ceasefire line have doubled in the last year alone. These statistics coupled with the 80 percent increase in ceasefire violations in comparison to last year, does nothing to allay the fears that the Indian administered Kashmir will re-submerged into a bloody tug of war once the US Troops leave Afghanistan.

Since the insurgency, which started in 1989, a total of 50,000 people have been killed in Indian Kashmir. The casualties include Militants, Indian Soldiers, Police officers and civilians. The last of which died in greater numbers.

Anti-India sentiments from Kashmiri Muslims echo throughout Kashmir valley. Civilians and the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front have continuously voiced their fury through regular demonstrations over Human Rights abuses such as torture, illegal arrests, and shootings of innocent civilians by the Indian Military, and police officers. Draconian laws such as the Armed Forces Act 1958 have lead to many Human Rights Violations and the curfews continue to leave inhabitants feeling paralysed and oppressed. Incidents such as the Mass rapes in Kunan Poshpora in February 1991 and the failure of the Indian Government to punish not even one soldier for the atrocities will not be forgotten or forgiven, it seems. Shootings of innocent civilians by Indian forces are not uncommon in Kashmir; Just last week the Central Reserve Police force gunned down four youths under false allegations of being involved in Militant activities.

It would be wrong to assume that such acts will drive Kashmiri Muslims into the arms of Pakistan and Extremist elements. Kashmiris have continuously demanded independence and regular polls show that almost two thirds of the people want nothing to do with India or Pakistan.  As for Militant outfits, such groups are as widely reviled as the Indian Military for killings, Torture, Kidnapping and rapes within Kashmir. However for some young radicalised Kashmiri Muslims, supporting Islamic Militancy and joining their ranks seems to be the only solution for freedom. Omar Abdullah, chief Minister of Kashmir, stated that he is concerned about the growing trend of youths who are turning to arms.

More recruits from the region in itself can be seen as nothing less than beneficial for the likes of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Sadly however more youths turning to arms will just perpetuate the cycle of violence in a region which has had more than its fair share bloodshed over the last 60 years.

Although the Migration of Pakistani-bred Militants to the border and the return of the violence which we saw in the 1990s is not a virtual certainty, it would be considered well-wishing to say that it is not likely. The outcome of peace talks between Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh, if and when they do happen, will be the decisive factor in determining whether the insurgency will resume or not, but most importantly it will determine whether both nations are truly dedicated to a path of everlasting peace.  Or is it simply too good to be true.



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