Even as the Muslims across the world observed the 10th day of Muharram, popularly known as Ashura —the day that commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (RA) in the battle of Karbala — another battle took place in Kashmir’s vicinity, where Taliban forces captured Kabul within a matter of days without facing any resistance whatsoever, after the US ordered the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
The swiftness and speed at which the Taliban forces took over entire Afghanistan not only shocked the world, but it also embarrassed the United States, whose President Joe Biden had promised an orderly withdrawal of American forces and allies, which has not happened. What we instead witnessed were panicked residents of the city thronging Kabul airport and clinging on to the wheels of a US military aircraft taking off the runway and the ghastly sight of two people falling off the plane to their horrible death, all captured on mobile videos.
This was not the end. Two suicide bombers struck within a dense crowd outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport on Thursday, killing at least 12 US service members and scores of Afghan civilians. The Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, claimed credit for the attacks that also damaged the Taliban’s sense of control.
So, what does all this mean for Afghanistan, the rest of the world, particularly our region, and for Kashmir?
Before answering these questions, it is important to look at the genesis of the current political mess in the early 90s, when young Pashtun men, who call themselves the Taliban, or students, were taught books of Deoband ideology in madrasas of Pakistan. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI and the army in Pakistan’s Pashtun-inhabited areas then sent them to a badly divided Afghanistan reeling from a decade of civil war and infighting between various ethnic militant gangs vying to capture crumbled Kabul after the Soviets had left. The Taliban were trained and sent to capture Afghanistan to bring it under de facto control of Pakistan.
Taliban militia that took the power of Afghanistan immediately went on to implement harsh religious norms of Sharia that included asking men to keep long beards and women to wear burqa all the time. They even notoriously demolished centuries-old statues of Bamiyan Buddha despite worldwide appeals not to do so. But their alliance with Saudi radical Osama bin Laden led to their quick fall after al-Qaeda carried out the Twin Tower attack in New York City on Sept 11, 2001, much to the horror of the entire world. President George W Bush of the United States immediately began bombing Afghanistan to flush out militants of al-Qaeda and remove the Taliban and establish a NATO-led international base in Afghanistan to make sure that it doesn’t become a safe haven for any other anti-US or anti-West terrorist organisation.
In the subsequent two decades, parts of Afghanistan went through rapid modernisation and development and gained massive progress in improving education and the status of women, health services, infrastructure development and integration with the world mainstream. An entire new generation of Afghan young men and women trained in progressive education and values grew up and an entire new aspirational middle class emerged in a modern Kabul city.
As the West is withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, the fall of Kabul may look like a victory of Pakistan and China, supported tacitly by Russia and Iran. But given the history of Afghanistan and the temperament of Afghan people, who have always resisted foreign intervention, the Taliban, which are seen by many as a proxy of Pakistan, may find it hard to hold on to the fort of Kabul against the nationalist aspirations of the people of Afghanistan. On the other side of the border, in Pakistan, it will have an immediate impact on radical actors who may get emboldened to repeat what the Taliban have done. It will give a further flip to the rivalry between terrorist organisations to implement their supremacy in Pakistan making things tougher for the civilian government as well as the army and spy agencies.
The greatest impact of this fiasco is bound to happen on the legacy, reputation and credibility of US President Joe Biden, who is being increasingly criticised both within his country and the rest of the world for messy handling of the withdrawal, poor planning and massive intelligence failure. The Taliban’s capture of Kabul has reignited political prospects for his archrival former US president Donald Trump, who has also aggressively attacked poor handling of the withdrawal by the Democrat government.
While India may not be directly impacted by the coming to power of the Taliban, many commentators predict that it may have ripple impacts on Kashmir valley, which is not very far from Afghanistan. Kashmir has in the past been ruled briefly by Afghanistan in what is described as one of Kashmir’s darkest and bloodiest episodes in history. Pakistan may use its influence on the Taliban to send idle Pashtun militants to the Kashmir valley to create insecurity and instability. Unabashedly admitting the Pakistan military’s close ties with the Taliban and its anti-India agenda, a leader of the ruling Pakistan Tehreeke-Insaf (PTI) government recently talked about taking help of the Taliban in Kashmir during an on-air television show. During a TV news debate, PTI leader Neelam Irshad Sheikh said the Taliban have announced that they will join hands with Pakistan in Kashmir. “The Taliban are saying that they are with us and they will help us in Kashmir,” Sheikh said during the show (Taliban will help us in Kashmir: Pakistan leader – The Times of India, Aug 25, 2021).
Even in the 90s, many from the Afghan jihad were diverted to Kashmir by Pakistan and the Taliban. Will it happen again?
It is very difficult to foresee how things may develop in Afghanistan in the next few weeks. It is however important to add that the Kashmir of today is not the same as the Kashmir of the 90s. The people of Kashmir valley have since seen a lot of deaths, destruction and political instability, including the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of the Constitution of India. The people of Kashmir are now tired and weary of the traumatic events of the last three decades and therefore any attempt to destabilise the region once again may not work out as before. The people of Kashmir want sustainable peace, security and stability, so they will not be amenable to any attempts by the Taliban or Pakistan to lure them into the deadly vortex of the last three decades once again.
s a Kashmiri politician currently working as state secretary of the People’s Democratic Front. He fought DDC elections from the Beerwah Constituency of Central Kashmir’s Budgam District. He is also a writer and public speaker.