By Zafar Iqbal
Recent surge of violence in both parts of contentious state of Jammu and Kashmir has fuelled the concerns about the expansion of Taliban network in the Himalayan region. Despite significant increase of terrorist operations in India and Pakistan during the last few years, Jammu and Kashmir remained relatively a peaceful zone. The momentum of two decade long insurgency in Indian Administrated Kashmir is greatly reduced with a considerable transition from turmoil to normalcy.
However, in neighboring Pakistan terrorism and bloodshed is rife where Islamic Taliban and Pakistan forces are engaged in a violent war in NWFP and lawless Waziristan regions since 2004 when Pakistan army started operations border Waziristan region against local groups involved in attacking NATO forces in Afghanistan. Now this war has extended to almost all major Pakistani cities through suicide attacks committed by young Taliban. In this six years war between Pakistani troops and Taliban, Pakistani administrated Kashmir region remained far from any major terrorist activity till June 26, 2009 when Taliban took the responsibly of first suicide attack on a military vehicle. Till now over 20 people, majority of them security personnel, have been killed and more than 125 have wounded in five terrorist attacks in Pakistani Kashmir within six months. Officials have also foiled more terrorist attempts of Taliban.
The militancy in Kashmir has a long history of linkages with Afghanistan and Pakistani northern areas now under the influence of Taliban. The defeat of Soviet Union by Afghan warriors contributed to encourage young Kashmiris to take gun against India. Since the inception of uprising in the Valley, almost all Kashmiri militant groups were trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal regions. This Afghan- Kashmir relationship also changed the configurations of Kashmiri resistance movement which turned a national liberation movement into a part of global Jihad when young Kashmiri recruits were trained ideologically and militarily by devout Pashtun and Arab instructors in Afghanistan and NWFP areas.
However, the emergence of Taliban in Afghanistan in 1994 changed the character of Kabul -Kashmir nexus when Taliban banned the largest Kashmiri rebellious group Hizb –ul- Mujahedeen (HM) to use Afghan territory, which has to shift its training camps to Pakistani tribal ares, nonetheless, Taliban continued to support their like minded Kashmiri groups, e.g. Harkut- ul- Mujahedeen (HuM) and Harut ul Ansar (HuA). A handful number of Kashmiris remained on Afghan soil till 20 August 1998 when US missile killed Islamic militants, including some Kashmiris. General Mushraff government’s crackdown on six Pakistani radical groups in 2002-03 also ceased all Kashmiri connections with Afghan soil.
In spite of historical cooperation between Kashmiri insurgents and militants in Pakistani tribal belt and NWFP region, now both have conflicting agendas in terms of their objectives and operations. Kashmiri militants claim their struggle as a holy war to liberate their homeland from Indian occupation but Taliban consider their resistance as a Jihad against the US who attacked Afghanistan, toppled Taliban regime and then started a war through Drones attacks in Pakistani border areas to defeat Taliban. Likewise, Taliban equate Pakistan military forces as ‘Traitors’ who collaborated with the NATO forces in a war against Taliban. Conversely, for Pakistani Taliban ongoing struggle in Kashmir is not a Jihad as they describe it as a national movement being fought only for land, not for Islamic Sharia.
Similarly, Kashmiri militants’ circles have some reservations about Taliban’s resistance. Popular Kashmiri leader Ali Geelani, who is an ardent supporter and advocate of armed struggle in Kashmir, has categorically condemned the Taliban activities in Pakistan and asked them ‘to stop bloodshed against civilians’.
All Pakistani Taliban groups are followers of radical Deobandi sect, who firmly reject visiting the shrines and other related rituals. The Taliban attacks on shrines, beheading of none-Deobandi Ulemas and occupations on holly places and Mosques of other sects, reflect Taliban’s religious ideology. Contrary to Taliban, most of Kashmiri militants practice less radical brands of Sunni Islam like Sufism and following saints. Interestingly, the Head of Kashmir’s militants, Syed Salahuddin is known as “Peer Sahab” among all Jihadi outfits because of his religious inclination for Sufism, which according to Taliban is un- Islamic.
Notwithstanding large participation of militants from Pakistan’s Pashtun region in insurgency in Kashmir, their mutual bonds have also been eroded in last few years. Harkatul Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), known also as ‘313 Brigade’ is only Kashmiri group which stills sustains its connections with Taliban and could work as a base for future Taliban operations in Kashmir. Headed by Iliyas Kashmiri, who was arrested for alleged attack on General Mushraff and now has been accused for recent killing of the SIA staff in Kabul and a plot against Danish newspaper, the HuJI has also shifted its base from southern Kotli district of Pakistani Kashmir to Razmuk, Waziristan in Pakistan. Similar group has been reported for his involvement in all major attacks in Pakistani part of Kashmir under the cover of Lasher- e- Zil, which is a sub unit of Tehreek e Taliban, Pakistan (TTP).
Moreover, the bombers of all major suicide attacks in Pakistan part of Kashmir have been identified as members of Taliban movement or residents of Pakistani NWFP and tribal region, nevertheless, the association of local sympathizers in these attacks could not be dismissed because the perpetrators of some major suicide attacks on Pakistani forces, including the attack on former Pakistan General Mushraff, have been described as the citizens of Pakistani Kashmir.
With the availability of already trained local force and large number of sympathizers of Jihad, Pakistani Kashmir is a soft and easy zone for terrorist operations for Taliban; however, it seems hard that Taliban can trigger the surge of suicide bombings in Indian part of Kashmir.
(The Write is a freelance columnist. He can be reaced at: firstname.lastname@example.org )