Will Taliban’s Triumph in Afghanistan Encourage Other Islamist Groups to Up the Ante in Kashmir?
- The Taliban's own messaging on this issue has been inconsistent since they assumed power. They say they want "good and healthy relations with our neighbors" and referred to Kashmir as a "bilateral issue" between India and Pakistan.
Al-Qaeda praised the Taliban for their victory in Kabul on August 31, only hours after the final U.S. forces left Afghanistan. The militant group issued a statement calling for the “liberation” of Kashmir, Somalia, Yemen, and other “Islamic nations.” The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has raised concerns about the security situation in Jammu & Kashmir, owing to the insurgent group’s close ties to the Pakistani ISI and other regional terror outfits, further lending credence to these apprehensions, diplomats and intelligence analysts fear that a resurgent Taliban means an escalation of terror-related violence in the Indian territory.
The fall of Ashraf Ghani’s U.S.-backed government, an ally of New Delhi, and the Taliban’s quick takeover of Afghanistan pose many issues for India. To begin with, India has long considered the Taliban to be nothing more than a stooge for its archrival, Pakistan. The Taliban was nurtured and grew in power with the support of Pakistan’s formidable Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in the 1990s, and the Taliban officials sought refuge across the border after the government fell in 2001, when the U.S. attacked.
India’s second issue, which is closely related, is the regional and domestic security threat posed by a Taliban administration. For decades, Kashmir, India’s Muslim-majority territory, has been mired in a separatist insurgency with ties to Pakistan. Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba, two of the most prominent Islamic militant groups operating in Kashmir, have historical ties to the Taliban, and according to a recent UN study, between 6,000 and 6,500 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad have been involved on the Afghan battlefield.
The fear in India is that the Taliban’s success may encourage other Islamist organizations and individuals in the region, thereby bolstering the conflict. In addition, there is the danger that Afghanistan may serve as a regional headquarters for extremists planning jihad on Indian soil and supplying weapons and explosives across the border. The Indian government fears that the Taliban takeover is having a psychological impact on all terrorist groups operating worldwide, including the Kashmir valley. Based on the fact that there are now between 40 to 50 foreign militants and 11 local militants active in north Kashmir, there is no denying the fact that their morale has been boosted.
Few Afghan militants have traveled to Kashmir for jihad in the past, and most analysts believe it is unlikely that they will do so in large numbers now, partially due to India’s severe military counter-insurgency in the region. The Taliban’s own messaging on this issue has been inconsistent since they assumed power. They have adamantly said that foreign terrorist groups will not utilize Afghan soil, adding that they want “good and healthy relations with our neighbors” and referring to Kashmir as a “bilateral issue” between India and Pakistan.
However, Taliban leaders have stated that they will “raise their voice” for Kashmiri Muslims, and the Taliban’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, recently made a statement referring to all Muslims and mujahideen who assisted them in their victory, which many interpreted to include Kashmiri liberation groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad.
While India’s Prime Minister Modi is regarded as biased against Muslims at home, India currently has a robust international relationship with the Gulf Islamic states, ensuring that it is not regarded as a pariah state in the Islamic world. The Taliban are also said to favor economic connections with regional countries such as India and China over the West since they are less likely to penalize the rule for human rights violations.
Nishi Patel is a student at The Bush School of Government & Public Service, Texas A&M University, where she is currently getting her Master’s degree in International Affairs. Her area of focus is the Middle East and South Asia. She aspires to join the intelligence community and in her free time, she runs and paints abstract paintings.