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Tuesday July 05, 2022

Taliban and the Kashmiris

August 30, 2021

More than 80 percent of the population in Afghanistan belongs to rural areas, living under the clutches of regional warlords, lacking basic education for everyone, not to talk of girls. They are accustomed to a meagre and simple life, with a strong belief system.

Rural Afghanistan has no comparison to Kabul, a city of five million people, where the majority of the population has long been introduced to technology, Western politics, media and education. The credit for this does not go to any invading foreign power. The city has preserved the remnants of the golden days of the pre-Russian invasion era.

In the early 1970s, I remember many Afghan students coming to Kashmir to pursue higher degrees in our educational institutions and Kashmiris pursuing degrees in Kabul University.

The political, cultural, and linguistic connections between Afghanistan and Kashmir are centuries old. Abdullah Khan Ishaq was the first Afghan ruler in Kashmir who established his dynasty in the mid-18th century that lasted for almost 66 years. Memories of that period are still fresh in the Pashto-speaking area of Gotli Bagh, which resembles Kandahar, where some people have had to endure the persecution in the late 1990s on suspicion of their resemblance to the Afghan Taliban.

While the international community has expressed concern over the Taliban's second term in power in Afghanistan, India's concern over its impact on [Occupied] Kashmir has taken over prime time debates on media channels. However, India's domestic policies have been called into question in the global media by many political analysts.

According to a senior Indian journalist (name withheld due to security), "The Hindutva policy of the current regime has tarnished India's image across the globe. India seems isolated and alone. Who would dare tell Hindutva how they [can] call [the] Taliban extremists when they are playing fanatic politics to win elections? They have damaged the secular credentials of India".

India’s opposition politicians have expressed the same concerns as expressed in 1996 when the armed movement in Kashmir had reached its peak. The then Congress government was forced to outreach to Kashmir so as to suppress the movement and prevent any possible support for the Taliban. At that time, the government promised former chief minister of Occupied Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah, who had fled Kashmir and was living in the UK, the restoration of all political rights after state elections. ‘Sky is the limit’ was the mantra of the government – which was never fulfilled.

India now claims the Taliban may rejoin Kashmir's armed movement, although there has been no evidence in the past that any Afghan fighters were captured or killed in the 1990s, nor has any proof been found that Kashmiris have ever sought any help from the Taliban.

George Graham, a professor of South Asian politics and governments, says that "if [a] superpower like the United States signed the Doha agreement with the Taliban, who were branded ‘terrorists’, and justify [the] Taliban taking control of Kabul, who can stop Kashmiris from continuing their struggle and achieving their goal of freedom? It could have been stopped by the Indian government like in the early '90s, but Modi at the behest of the RSS has left no option for reconciliation….”

There is a perception in India that Kashmiris are happy with the Taliban government in the neighbourhood. It must be borne in mind that most of the Kashmiris did not like the rule of the Taliban in the early 1990s but since Kashmiris have suffered under Hindutva politics and are struggling with the loss of their identity, dignity, and political rights, they certainly derive pleasure at every defeat of India’s Hindutva government.

Raja Aleem of Kashmir (who was jailed many times) says that "Hindutva followers are Hindu terrorists; their crimes against humanity are a hundred times more than the ISIS terrorists".

The political turmoil in the neighbourhood will not leave Jammu and Kashmir unaffected. However, it is not correct to say that Kashmiris are in favour of continuing their struggle at gunpoint or that they seek the favour of any other country. The majority support a peaceful struggle for their political and economic rights.

A few days ago, you may have heard the statement of Mehbooba Mufti in which she urged India in the context of the changing political situation in Afghanistan to find a peaceful solution to Kashmir or it can result in a heavy burden for the country. At the same time, the Gupkar Alliance of Mainstream Parties issued a strong statement warning the Indian government to take immediate steps for the restoration of Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution so that the situation does not get out of hand again. In reaction, the ruling BJP demanded strict action against Mehbooba Mufti.

BJP local chief Ravinder Raina accused Mehbooba Mufti of spreading hatred in the country, saying "Narendra Modi is not Joe Biden of the United States who is withdrawing troops from Afghanistan out of fear of the Taliban” – although India had already announced the evacuation of thousands of people, including its diplomatic staff, from Kabul and other consulates.

Indian media has claimed that the mainstream and pro-freedom camp in Occupied Kashmir was not only in jubilation over the recent success of the Afghan Taliban, but that the youth were looking for ways to breathe a new life into the independence movement despite the government's tough policies against the population. The irony in this is that Kashmiri leaders did not say anything that most Indian analysts and opposition leaders did not say. Many politicians and political experts have warned the Indian government to refrain from its iron-fist policies and start the process of winning back the Kashmiri people.

Yashwant Sinha, the former finance minister in the BJP government after visiting Kashmir a few weeks ago said that the situation had worsened and the chasm between the Valley and Delhi had widened. Referring to the success of the Taliban, he slammed the Modi government's foreign policy, saying "it is a deviation from reality to call Kashmir normal. People did not take to the streets to protest, but that does not mean that the situation in Kashmir has improved, and the basic issue has been resolved; the distance between Kashmir and Delhi has become too wide to fill".

Commenting on the Taliban's success, former Indian army chief General Shankar Roy Chaudhry said that: "This will have a profound effect on Kashmir and there are fears of a recurrence of the 1990s situation. The government should immediately start the process of reconciliation with Kashmiris and reassure them that India is a secular country. It's the right place for all faiths".

When I mentioned this statement of the former army chief to Raja Hanif, a human rights activist in Kashmir, he laughed for a long time and then said, "General Sahib is advising his government that has taken away everything from Kashmiris based on religion, labelling them as 'terrorists' and has spread venom against them across the country. He is telling Modi to give a lollipop to Kashmiris. My advice would be to reassure the thirty percent minorities of India who are getting lynched every day in the name of religion". He further said, "Whether the Taliban come or not, we have no interest in [that]. Our struggle has started even before the birth of [the] Taliban, which will come to an end only after reaching our destination."

The situation in Jammu and Kashmir has worsened. Indian security forces go to people’s homes and check their phones to see if anyone has written a post or message about the Taliban.

A local editor of a newspaper says the success of the Taliban has certainly boosted public morale, but the real reason for this is the constant oppression inflicted by the Hindutva government. Political observers, including Mehbooba Mufti, have warned about the consequences, but since Mehbooba is a Kashmiri Muslim, she gets branded as being among traitors.

The writer is a Kashmiri activist and former journalist.

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