Afghan Mujahideen and Terrorism in Kashmir

Afghan Mujahideen and Terrorism in Kashmir

A. K. Ray

On 22 May 1992, the Statesman carried its own Srinagar correspondent's report saying: "The State Government has begun investigation following the reports that several hundred Afghan Mujahideen have sneaked in or (sic) fight alongside Kashmiri insurgents for separation of Jammu Kashmir (sic) from Indian Union, official sources said in Srinagar. It is not known how far that investigation proceeded and what, if anything, was done to nip the mischief in the bud.

The Times of India of 23 July 1992 carried a report by Ravi Bhatia suggesting that Governor G.C. Saxena had Been sufficiently concerned about the implications of the influx of the Afghan Mujahideen so that he rushed to New Delhi to apprise the Prime Minister of the danger. The ex-Collectors who take decisions in such matters apparently assured the worried Governor that some more paramilitary forces would be made available for doing what the Soviet Army could not do. The politicians in control groped, fumbled and dithered, and did nothing that ought to have been done.

Reports about Afghan Mujahideen operating in the Valley of Kashmir continued to appear in the press. While the Central Government which is responsible and accountable for handling Kashmir affairs observed a deafening silence, the Additional Director of BSF, P.C. Dogra, said in Jammu on 17 August 1993 that "foreign mercenaries" had taken over command of most of the militant outfits operating in Jammu and Kashmir "in a bid to boost the sagging morale of the militants", especially in the Kashmir Valley. The Hindustan Times of 24 August 1993 carried a longish report from A.R. Wig definitely naming, on the basis of local briefing, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate of Pakistan (ISI) as the master-mind behind the launching of Afghan Mujahideen into The Valley. Again. on 22 October 1993, the Kashmir Times quoted Prakash Singh, Director General of BSF saying that more than 2300 Pakistan-trained "foreign mercenaries" from at least six countries were fighting against the Indian security forces in the Kashmir Valley. To cap all this, there appeared in the Hindustan Times of 4 December 1993 the salient points in the report titled New Islamist International submitted by a task-force set up by the US House Republican Research Committee to probe the "growing teeth of international trans-border Islamic terrorism". This report revealed that the ISI had sent highly trained Pakistani and Arab terrorists into the Indian territory via Nepal to establish a "countrywide network and support system of subversion and terrorism."

Two conclusions follow from all this: first, there was worse than inadequate, if any at all, appreciation of the implications of the induction of Afghan Mujahideen into the Valley, and, secondly, the Central Government does not have a clue to the proper action to be taken in a situation of this kind. The second conclusion by no means implies that the-Army and the paramilitary forces have no ideas as to how to tackle the situation, but, it does suggest that the ruling party is still mesmerized into paralysis of will by its self-created mirage of what is called the "Muslim vote-bank".

The grave danger posed by the induction of Afghan Mujahideen into the Valley cannot be wished or negotiated away. It cannot be handled as if it were no more than a problem of policing an area infested with criminals. It cannot be conveniently downgraded to the class of what is called Low Intensity Conflict (LIC), and then sought to be tackled with a priori principles which have never worked anywhere. It has to be taken as a thing-in-itself, analyzed, understood, and then combated in the proper manner with the proper means. It requires cold-blooded decision-making and ruthless execution.

The first question to be asked is who these Mujahideen are. To describe those operating in the Valley contemptuously as mercenaries is to commit a grave error. A mercenary is a soldier of fortune without any loyalties or commitments. Anyone who uses them does so at great risk to the purpose in view. The first objective of any mercenary is to remain alive in order to get paid; the second is to carry out the assigned task with minimum risk to oneself; and the third is to run away safely when the going gets too hot. Can these objectives be attributed to the Afghan Mujahideen in the Valley?

These Mujahideen emerged as the fighting arm of various groups resisting the regime of Sardar Mohammad Daud who had overthrown King Zahir Shah in 1973, and instituted an oppressive regime, the "modernization" and leftist policies of which went against the grain of the Afghan people and their religious leaders. There were three stages of their evolution as remarkably successful irregulars: (I) resistance to Daud regime, (2) intensified resistance and armed conflict during the Taraki- Amin period (April 1978 to December 1979), and (3) guerrilla warfare during Soviet occupation and puppet Babrak Karmal regime from 27 December 1979 to 15 February 1989, the date on which the last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan, and, thereafter against the Najibullah regime. During the last phase, there was considerable fighting between The rival groups for overall control and dominance in Kabul. The conflict is far from over.

It was during The Taraki-Amin period that there was a general uprising of the Afghan people against the imposition of radical socio-economic reforms. Persecution by the leftist regime led to a massive exodus of men, women and children over the border mainly into Pakistan. Among them were armed artisans who had already begun to call themselves mujahideen, and also those who wanted to go back into Afghanistan and wage a jehad against the "godless" regime and then against the Soviet interlopers, the shuravi. These were an unorganised lot carrying out sporadic and un- coordinated attacks by independent groups of "freedom fighters". Soon, over 50 different political groups with their own bands of armed people, had put up their offices in Peshawar.

The Soviet Union under Brezhnev had seriously misled itself about the limits of what was then called the Kissinger Doctrine, and thought that the apparent vacuum created by the withdrawal of American involvement from some parts of the US strategic perimeter could be filled by it and used as springboards for further expansion. A Soviet putsch in Afghanistan had been predicted by this author in 1969. When it came about ten years later, the Indian government was caught napping and entirely clueless as to its implication for the security of the country it ruled. Naturally, it missed a golden opportunity to give a decisively new turn to Indo-Pak relations by offering security assurances to the neighbour, and using them to limit US involvement in Pakistan's India policy which the USA had slowly but surely started dissociating itself even during the latter days of Nixon administration.

In terms of Kissinger Doctrine, the refashioning of the Northern Tier assumed the continuance of Afghanistan as a buffer state. There were not enough grounds as US saw them for active interference with the Daud regime as its Russophilia was more tactical then ideological. Still, those who resisted the regime were valuable as a corrective, and fell within the scope of the US strategic compulsion to resist the expansion of Soviet power and influence. It was, therefore, willing, together with its allies, to support proxy wars against the Soviet Union and its satellites. Thus, with the commencement of the second stage of Mujahideen resistance, foreign aid including liberal supplies of arms and ammunition for the Mujahideen began to arrive through the port of Karachi or down Karakoram Highway. Rawalpindi and Peshawar became the centres for the distribution of CIA supplied military hardware for the Afghan Mujahideen.

It is one thing to provide arms for "freedom fighters", it is another thing to ensure that they got to the hands which could use them best. A CBC- TV documentary titled "The Seeds of Terrorism" which was telecast on February 1, 1994 demonstrated as to how the seeds of international terrorism were sown by USA's alliance with Pakistan and its ISI for supporting Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan. "The Mujahideen had to be organise into identifiable groups so that some kind of control could be exercised over them. Since Pakistan had a military government at that time, the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) was given the task to act as the co-ordinator of all military assistance provided to the Mujahideen by friendly nations". The first task was, of course, to reduce the 50-plus political groups to a manageable number. According to Lt. Gen (Retd) Kamal Matinuddin, President Zia gave this task to the Martial Law Administrator of the Frontier Province, Lt. Gen. Fazle Haq who managed to persuade the disjointed elements to form a limited number of groups. Thus came into being seven major groupings each of whom would have a number of ''field commanders" under its control. These did not include nine Iran-based Shia groups who, together, formed the Hizb-e- Wahdal. Of the seven Sunni groups, four were and are conservative and radical Islamists of varying degrees, the rest not quite so. Of the four, the Hizb-e-Islami af Gulbadin Hikmatyar is the most trenchant, the most numerous, the most uncompromising and the most ruthless while in terms of performance in the field, Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani's Jamiat-e-Islami (which includes Ahmad Shah Masood, the~ Lion of Panjsher) is probably the most experienced, the most battle-hardened, and the best guerrilla warriors.

Never in history have the Afghans been noted for unity amongst themselves. The primary loyalties of an Afghan are to his tribe and its chief, and to the territory in which his hearth and home and family are. The one single factor that overrode the innate divisiveness of the Afghan people was the motivation to save Islam from the danger posed by the atheistic cult of socialism-communism, and by the "godless" shuravi (Russians) with their abhorrent ways. Additional fuel was provided by the time-honoured Afghan tradition of badal, i.e. exacting blood-revenge for those killed by the leftist regime and the Soviet occupation forces. This composite motivation made it possible for the mutually exclusive groups to fight as one under the overall control and guidance of ISI. President Zia's total support to the Mujahideen was no secret to anyone. He had risked a great deal in confronting the Soviet Union, albeit with US support, but came out successful. A half jocular question is said to have gone round the GHQ at Rawalpindi: "what do you think the Indian Army is going to do if one fine morning it saw Russian troops on the other bank of the Sutlej?"

The objective of Mujahideen activity was the liberation of their country from Soviet occupation and the puppet leftist regime it had installed. Why and how has it been possible for Pakistan to induce and encourage them to infiltrate into the Valley and fight alongside the militants? President Zia obviously had two purposes in mind, first to counteract the threat to his country posed by Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and secondly, decisively to destroy the traditional Indo-Afghan friendship through the eminently realistic and the most obvious means, viz., the forging of an Islamic front with the Mujahideen and their political groups. He achieved both. The bonus he earned was in the renewed involvement of the USA with Pakistan, which the Republicans would have kept within reasonable bounds, and which the Clinton administration has managed, for good or evil, to deepen.

It may sound strange but the fact is that President Zia, in his attempt to drive a wedge between the Afghans and India, received considerable help from India itself in a form which Pakistan is even now finding very crucial. When at the ungodly hour of near-midnight of 27 December 1979, the Soviet Ambassador in New Delhi called on Foreign Secretary, R.D. Sathe to tell him the blatant lie that Soviet forces had entered Afghanistan on invitation, he got the dressing down of his life. Sathe had minced no words. The 'caretaker' government of Charan Singh was hardly to be found anywhere. Between that dressing down and the infamous speech by India's Permanent Representative at the UN before the Security Council in mid- January 1980, an extremely grave miscalculation was made by people yet to hold the reins of government, and, a hapless - because bossless - Foreign Secretary was railroaded into sending utterly shameful instructions to the PR in New York. The PR, not having been put wise, criticised certain unidentified nations for arming, training and encouraging subversive elements, and asserted that India had no reason to doubt the Soviet claim about the invitation. President Zia must have chortled with glee at the news.

It is impossible to believe that the Indian government had been totally unaware of the struggle of the Mujahideen against the Taraki and Amin regimes, and how close to success they were when Brezhnev moved his troops to save his puppets. It was obvious to anyone who eared that the Mujahideen would continue their struggle with outside help, and would prefer death to dishonour. It was also obvious that the Russians will get as bogged down in Afghanistan as the Americans had been in Vietnam. There was time, but, not for long, to acknowledge one's error and retrace one's steps. For some inexplicable reason, the saga of blunders continued. Within the much wider horizon of the long-term implications of what was going on in Afghanistan, India concentrated on the small gnat, viz., the possibility that the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan might induce USA to arm Pakistan. Thundered Foreign Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in the Parliament on 17 June 1980, "It is time to ask ourselves if Afghanistan has not become or is not likely to become, a pretext for those who wish to create further instability in that country". It was also the view that the Russians had moved in to prompt the Americans. How easy it was for Pakistan then to convince the Mujahideen groups that India was hand in glove with the atheistic communists and the shuravi! A fortiori then, Islam must also be in danger in India, and particularly in Kashmir which was under "Indian occupation".

It is one thing to indoctrinate the Mujahideen against India while their own liberation struggle is on, but, it is very much a different thing to make them take time off from the internal struggles that followed, and go to fight in the Valley. It is self-evident that the Mujahideen as organised units could not have moved into the Valley, and cannot continue to do so without planning by the ISI, and logistical and other support from that organisation. It is not just the love for Islam that has provided the ISI with the motivation. It is necessary to attempt a probe into the rationale behind the move in the light of the objectives of Pakistan's India policy. Is it a spur-of-the- moment opportunistic decision in furtherance of a given policy, or is it the unfolding of a new phase in a strategic plan formulated in the past? Is it a part of plan"K-2"?

What is the kind of material that has been available to Pakislan's planners? The Mujahideen are of three types: (1) those who remained behind in Afghanistan to carry on the jehad, (2) those who came out in order to go back again, and fresh recruits from the refugees in Pakistan, and (3) Islamic fundamentalist militants, soldiers of fortune, and "specialists for hire" from various Arab countries from the Gulf to Algeria, and some Iranian elements. The ouster of the Najibullah regime after the withdrawal of Soviet troops did not lead to a massive return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan. In fact, the unsettled situation within Afghanistan and the continuation of violent factional conflict has discouraged a lot of them from returning while encouraging others to come out to a safe haven in Pakistan. It is also a fact that an appreciable number of Afghans with access to arms supplies had fanned out inside Pakistan, and were a source of both actual and potential law and order problem. As the experience with the PLO "fighters" evacuated from Lebanon (some 13,000 of them) in mid-1982 has shown, part-time partisans generally gravitate back to where their families are and where they have some means of peaceful livelihood. It is, therefore, likely that some Mujahideen returned to Pakistan after carrying out their task, although their further presence in that country was neither necessary nor desirable. Something had to be done with and about this population.

At this point, Pakistan's Afghan and India policies come together in active convergence. The slumber-prone and incoherent Home Minister has belatedly woken up to the fact that Pakistan has been working on a plan to balkanise India in which the Valley is the first step while it has been evident to every intelligent Indian since 1972 that sooner or later Pakistan will engineer a riposte to the emergence of Bangladesh and India's involvement in that affair. Such a riposte would have clearly defined targets, and would be carried but according to carefully laid plans taking into account not only the realities on the ground but also every possible twist and turn in the international situation. And, it will require a very strong motivation for a sustained and long-term operation because 1971 had taught the lesson of the futility of a direct military assault based on unreal presumptions.

In order to understand the real character of Pakistani depredations inside Indian territory, it is necessary to recognise certain aspects of the Pakistani psyche. "The dominant factor is the mental attitude of the armed forces, complemented by that of the bureaucracy - both dominated by the Punjabi elite." And this elite is thoroughly infiltrated by adherents of Maududi's Jamaat-e-Islami. "This elite believes that Pakistan ought to have included the whole of Punjab, Hyderabad, Kashmir, the whole of Bengal, and Assam with a corridor connecting non-contiguous areas."

Baladitya adds: All cadets on training in various military establishments in Pakistan are given an intensive course of indoctrination. The sum and substance of this indoctrination consists in instilling the conviction that Islam is superior to all other religions, that Muslims by consequence are superior to all others and are destined to rule over the world, that it is the duty of every Muslim to spread the sway of Islam, that a part of this duty is to 'liberate' Muslims from infidel rule everywhere, that cowardly Hindus can never win a battle against Islamic forces, and that glory of Islam and its flag has to be restored on this 'sub-continent'. And, also: "The only way this revenge can be sought is through first cutting India down to size by engineering secession of various areas, and then to administer a military coup-de-grace. It is at this particular point that the aims of the Pakistani military establishment coincide with those of Jamaat-e-Islami and Muslim Brotherhood".

Whether or not the Afghan imbroglio at its very inception gave Pakistan the idea of killing two birds with one stone is a matter for conjecture. What is established as a fact is that through it, the Pakistan army and the ISI gained a great deal of extremely useful and relevant experience in conducting a clandestine operation on a large scale. It is evident at the same time that Pakistan cannot devote all its energies and resources for the pursuit of its India policy, so long as Afghanistan does not settle down to at least a semblance of peace with a truly Islamic regime in control. Therefore, a relatively peaceful Afghanistan is a necessary pre-condition for the successful pursuit of the policy of balkanising India.

As the Pakistani planners and operatives took stock of the situation after a composite Mujahideen government assumed control in Kabul, however fragile that device was, they may have seen it like this: (1) Afghan love of independence was not enough to forge the diverse resistance groups into a unified body; (2) unification, at least for tactical purposes, was brought about by the overriding motivation of saving Islam from "godlessness" of the leftists and the shuravi; (3) with the departure of the Russians and the downfall of the communist regime, this basis for unity no longer existed in Afghanistan as a binding force; (4) in the foreseeable future, there is every likelihood of intense factional warfare with various groups trying to secure exclusive Pakistani support (5) it is necessary, therefore, selectively to weaken various factions so that on the one hand the dimensions of the problem within Afghanistan are reduced while on the other hand promoting the interests of the particular faction or factions that Pakistan desired to see in control; (6) this objective can be at least partially achieved if the focus of jehad is shifted elsewhere, viz., the Valley, and a sufficient number of the Mujahideen are diverted into that area; (7) induction of battle-experienced Mujahideen trained in the use of not only sophisticated arms, but also better techniques of sabotage and more effective tactics would greatly increase effectiveness of the militants in the Valley; (8) such a move would facilitate the transition from the hit-and-run phase to that of defensive-offensive operations in the classic guerrilla operational method; (9) the induction of the Mujahideen into the Valley will make it that much more difficult for the Indian security forces to gain the upper hand; (10) such induction will attract international attention to the problem of Kashmir, and plausible claims to virtue could be made by saying that involvement in the Valley is keeping the Mujahideen away from spilling over the borders in to any of the Central Asian Republics. The guiding principle behind this calculation is the fundamental military wisdom which says that if irregulars do not lose decisively, they win, and, if the regulars do not win decisively, they lose. This is the substratum of plan 'K-2'.

To conclude from interrogation reports that Afghan Mujahideen have been sent to the Valley in order to put some spine back into the local militants is a serious error arising generally from a wishful interpretation of what apprehended militants say to their interrogators, and from the basic mistake of swallowing the myth that the militants in the Valley are "misguided youth". "In any organised terrorist activity, there is an assumption that if a member of an operation squad is apprehended, he will be thoroughly grilled by 'hostile intelligence'. He is, of course, carefully briefed beforehand as to what to say if apprehended. As regards the "misguided youth", only an imbecile will described them as such, and, only a bigger imbecile will imagine that there are, among these, young men who have been forced to become insurgents and are not really willing to be so. In any organised insurgency, there is no place for the weakling, the unwilling and the undependable."

What does the induction of Afghan Mujahideen into the Valley then imply? Pakistan's internal compulsions apart, the real purpose behind this move is two-fold, first to escalate the level of militancy in the Valley from the hit-and-run stage to that of defensive-offensive operations carried out from well-protected bases, and involving increasingly long engagements with the security forces, and, secondly to use this stage to train and harden the local militants to go on to the tactical offensive stage with better arms, better logistics, better fighting methods, and experience in field command. The development will generally follow the pattern seen elsewhere.

Propaganda-wise, the whole business of escalation will be presented as new phase in the ''liberation struggle" a la Afghanistan, as well as an Islamic struggle against infidels - the latter for consumption in the Islamic countries. By seeing a parallel between the two situations, Ms. Robin Raphel, in her address to the Asia Society, has already clearly indicated the extent to which Pakistan has succeeded in putting across its own story. No mistake should be made about the wider implications of this Foothold in US policy-making.

 There is no point in reading non-existent meanings in the tie-up of particular groups or the Mujahideen with particular groups of militants in the Valley. The tie-ups may not indeed mean anything more than territorial divisions for purposes of operations. The Mujahideen are not at all free agents in this matter. Their joint operations will have to conform to the lines and targets set by the ISI on which they have to depend entirely for support in all forms. The Islamic umbrella will ensure overall operational co-operation.

 Some may argue that the Mujahideen cannot be very effective in the Valley as they will not be "fish in water", and that the memory of the atrocities perpetrated by the Pushtun Tribals in 1947-48 will make the local Muslims hostile to them. Both arguments are false. If the Mujahideen are seen merely to be Afghans, they will not be "fish in water", but, if they are seen as valiant fighters on a jehad mission, they will be, and the mullahs will insist on everyone honouring the Islamic obligation to assist mujahids. The trained Mujahideen operating in the Valley are not the marauding rabble from the Tribal Area launched by Pakistan in 1947 with the lure of loot and women: they are, by and large, a disciplined lot who have learned the importance of securing local support. Even the memory, if it survives at all, of the oppression during the Afghan rule in Kashmir in the past, will not work against them; for, according to strict Islamic doctrines, even a tyrannical Muslim regime is always preferable to infidel rule, however benign, and, ruling by force was legitimised six hundred years ago by the Chief Qazi of the Mamelukes in Cairo.

What has to be realised first is that what is going on in the Valley is no longer a local affair, and that it has now become an integral part of the world-wide offensive of militant fundamentalist Islam which now supports Pakistan's hostile intentions regarding India. In fact, Pakistan has become a willing partner in that offensive.

It may be comforting to imagine that the international community can somehow be aroused to shake a warning finger at Pakistan, but, the truth is sadly otherwise. That community, particularly the West, is sick and tired of the decades-long Indo-Pak squabbles, the only exception being the United States where the Clinton administration is on a Bible-belt morality binge abroad. For the US, South Asia is a low-priority area, and, therefore, there is tendency to embrace the criminal in an woolly-headed attempt to be even-handed. The situation, thus, has to be tackled by us with our own means which must exclude the futile and litigious gambit of distributing "evidence" of Pakistani interference in our internal affairs. The more we let Pakistan know what we know, the easier it becomes for that country to deceive us and rest of the world.

Those who are not congenital defeatists know that it is possible to liquidate the militancy in the Valley at some cost but not too much. The guerilla loses his effectiveness when he can no longer use his tactics. The 'hammer and anvil' tactics used by the Soviet Army in Afghanistan will not work; used, it will only create more enemies. Guerrillas need people; deny them the people, not with bribes of 'economic packages', nor with dangling the rotten carrot of 'political process', but by making the people inaccessible to them, and by denying them the steady supply of replacements and recruits they are always in need. There are tested ways to do this, but, do we have the courage and the determination to adopt them? Force the guerrillas to fight conventionally by denying them the essentials of war by irregulars. More than the militants in the Valley, it is our political decision-makers who need the spine.

These gentlemen had better wake up fast and shake themselves out of their stupor. There is a growing suspicion that there exists a bunch of 'moles' who ensure that the Central government will either not do anything, or do precisely the wrong thing. There is also the suspicion that behind all the PR exercises, it is a "sell-out" that is being planned.

Powered by Company Name Company Name