The Afghan-Kashmir Connection
By Peter Tomsen, former American Special Envoy to the Afghan Resistance; Ambassador in Residence and staff member, Center for Afghanistan Studies, University of Nebraska at Omaha.
After the October 12, 1999, military coup in Pakistan, Islamabad's interference in Afghanistan in pursuit of `Strategic Islamic Depth' against India increased. The powerful Pakistani military Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) supported a "joint venture" of radical Afghan, Pakistani and foreign Muslim extremists inside Afghanistan. This joint venture included: the Taliban; Osama bin Ladin, his well-equipped `Arab Brigade' of several thousand militants from the Persian Gulf, the Middle East and North Africa; Pakistani religious parties, notably the rabidly anti-West Jamiati-ul Ulema-ul Islami (JUI); the JUI's paramilitary arm, Harakat-ul-Mujaheddin; the hundreds of JUI-run madrassas (religious schools) in Pakistan supported by funds from the Persian Gulf; Afghan Muslim fanatics supported by Pakistan during the Soviet War; plus an array of radical Islamist groups from Central Asia, the Middle East, the Philippines and China's Xinjiang province.
In late 2000, Pakistani General Pervez Musharraf and his military regime, compensated for the Taliban's waning popularity inside Afghanistan by committing increasing Pakistani military manpower and resources to suppress the anti-Taliban Afghan resistance, led by Ahmad Shah Masood in northern Afghanistan. Jane's Defence Weekly cited Western military sources as estimating that combined Pakistani military and the ISI-directed joint venture comprised over 30% of the 20,000-man force that overran opposition commander Masood's base in September, 2000.
Afghan Settlement Linked to Kashmir Insurgency
The fighting in Afghanistan and the Kashmir insurgency are interconnected, undercutting prospects for a peaceful resolution of either conflict. The ISI-coordinated joint venture's control of areas in fragmented, chaotic Afghanistan is indispensable to sustaining the Kashmir uprising. Inside Pakistan, the JUI and a disparate collection of other Pakistani jihadi religious parties scour the Punjab and elsewhere in Pakistan to recruit fighters, first cycling them through training camps in Afghanistan. They then join other extremists for the 120-mile trip through northern Pakistan to Kashmir.
India's tough approach in Kashmir reinforces the Afghanistan-Kashmir connection. All significant Indian political parties resist any meaningful compromise on Kashmir. New Delhi's concerns about encouraging anti-Indian separatist movements stretching in an arc of disgruntled ethnic groups from Mizos and Nagas in India's east to Sikhs and Muslim Kashmiris in the north-west and north, work against Indian flexibility for a negotiated solution in Kashmir.
Leaders of the conservative, ruling Bhartyiya Janata Party evoke the symbols and tenets of Hinduism accompanied by a not so thinly-veiled historic antipathy against Muslims. Much of India's political establishment considers Kashmir a Muslim and Pakistani challenge to Hindu India, a challenge that has been rebuffed by Indian military successes in two and a half wars since partition in 1947. India enjoys a four-to-one conventional military edge and is virtually certain to retain possession over the two-thirds of Kashmir on its side of the Line of Control dividing Kashmir. As the bull's eye for Pakistani pressure on India, Kashmir is also the potential fuse of a powder keg that could explode into mankind's first nuclear weapons exchange.
India's alienation of Kashmir's majority Muslim population has made New Delhi's rejection of Pakistan's attempts to force Indian compromise all the stronger. Its current vulnerability in Kashmir is grounded in deep popular discontent with Indian rule among Kashmir's Muslim inhabitants. Indian Kashmir is militarily occupied by a 400,000-man Indian military and paramilitary force against the wishes of the bulk of its inhabitants.
India may also see advantage in sustaining the inter-connected Kashmir and Afghan conflicts. This strategy isolates Pakistan internationally by cementing anti-terrorist co-operation between India and major world powers, which wish to counter the Pakistan-supported Taliban and international joint venture of Muslim radicals in Afghanistan. Active Indian collaboration with the West, Russia and other governments against Islamist militancy thus serves India's broader goal of weakening and isolating Pakistan.
Source: Excerpt from "Geopolitics of an Afghan Settlement," Perceptions, Dec. 2000 - Feb. 2001. Online at http://www.wapha.org/journal.html