New Delhi: Would a US withdrawal from Afghanistan affect the security of Jammu and Kashmir? It depends on several factors of which the most important is the internal factor. This piece deals with it.

Insurgency and subsequently terrorism have been features of Kashmir from small beginnings since 1988 coming on the heels of a rigged election. The United States intervened to oust the Taliban government and its Al-Qaeda guests only in 2001. So for the intervening thirteen years, India managed J and K while all manner of extremists ruled Afghanistan. It started with the “mujahideen” backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. And later when the Soviet Union broke up and US oil companies needed profitable routes to pipe out rich reserves of oil and gas from certain Central Asian republics, the Bill Clinton administration and the Benazir Bhutto government conspired in a Taliban victory over warring “mujahideen” factions to seize Kabul. But even the Taliban regime could not ensure security of US pipelines which found other outlets. For the second time in a space of a decade, the US lost interest in Afghanistan. Through all these upheavals, India kept the situation under reasonable control in Jammu and Kashmir. If the US withdraws from Afghanistan under Donald Trump, it would be the third time. It will result in a vacuum. But should India take adequate political and security measures in J and K, the situation can be kept from going out of hand.

Primarily, however, for that, the muscular policies of the Narendra Modi government in the frontline state have to be abandoned. The people of Kashmir are moderate (despite all the provocations) and largely Sufis and do not share an affinity with the Taliban. They also have an aversion for the Punjabi Pakistanis who dominate the leaderships and ranks of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Jaish e Mohammed and other terror groups sponsored by the Pakistani deep state. These revulsions, all the same, are overlaid by deep and abiding resentment for the hard line policies instituted by the Modi regime in J and K. Till before Modi came to power, the Indian army was a shadowy presence in the Valley. Mostly present in terror-prone rural areas usually near the frontier with Pakistan, it was generally housed, even so, in barracks to be called to only those operations beyond the capacities of the local police and Central paramilitary forces to control. In town centres and notably Downtown Srinagar, the army was a rare sight. But in the last four years, the army presence has become all too common which is not something a sensible army leadership should accept in any circumstance. Armies are trained for war. Why have their counterinsurgency and counterterrorism roles become expanded to a degree to affect their utility and success?

The current ultranationalist political and military leaderships are unlikely to understand, let alone accept, these concerns. Perhaps better sense will prevail after the 2019 general election. But the best chance for Kashmir when and if the Americans vacate Afghanistan lies in restoring the frayed ties of citizenship with Kashmiris. In the past, Kashmiris have turned against terrorism to the point of informing against terrorists. The reasons are known to all sides and need no discussion. A similar environment of trust and mutual benefit must be recreated. President’s rule is not the ideal vehicle for confidence-building. An elected government, however fragile, brings a sense of ownership to voters who have the choice to re-elect or overthrow their representatives. An elected J and K government is an effective foil for Afghanistan without America. In years past, the army had a single point agenda of reducing the threshold of violence to enable free and fair elections. It succeeded. The present army leadership leaves much to be desired. It swears by the power of force and weapons. It operates on the premise that Kashmiris overwhelmingly are pro-Pakistani which definitely is not the case. Winning the hearts and minds of Kashmiris is the most effective weapon against the expected Afghan hordes. The security forces have restored peace in the past. They have vast institutional learning. These should be tapped as the United States prepares to quit Afghanistan.

Editor’s note: External dimensions of the coming US withdrawal from Afghanistan will be analyzed in subsequent pieces.