“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Riyaz thinks so, and his logic is heavy on an interpretation of history which by no means is universally accepted by all constituents of Kashmir

(Mr. Riyaz Masroor, 38, was born and raised in Srinagar. He is a Srinagar based journalist who writes in English, Urdu and kashmiri. Besides working in the local press, his articles have appeared on BBC Radio online, Himal Southasia and the Journal of International Federation of Journalists.)

Kashmir via Kabul

What does London Conference on Afghanistan, beginning January 28, mean to us? This crucial question requires an elaborate answer.

Kashmir shares an interesting relationship with Afghanistan. Not just because Afghans ruled the ‘paradise on earth’ for 67 years but because peace in Kashmir is inversely proportional to war in Afghanistan.

In 1979, when Russia’s Red Army forayed into rugged, war-torn Kabul, Kashmir was basking in a newly-bought peace under Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. The decade of Soviet occupation in Afghanistan was marked, in Kashmir, by relatively poised regimes except for a brief trouble under G M Shah, who had toppled Farooq Abdullah’s government in 1984. Back then Pakistan’s official media would gloat over the Afghan Jihad but people responded not beyond listening to radio dispatches from Peshawar or Kandahar.

But that was soon to end. Russia’s exit plan was conceived little later than mid eighties. Before that plan could be executed Kashmir saw the resurrection of separatist movement. A large coalition of separatist groups, Muslim United Front, ran for state elections in 1987. The poll was brazenly rigged to prevent MUF, purported to comprise anti-National Conference vote bank, from assuming power.
Most of the modern historians unwittingly believe that the electoral fraud of 1987 has actually rooted the cult of violence in Kashmir. That may be a reason but not the reason. It was very well known that Pakistan had been bankrolling Afghan Jihad and in the event of Soviet retreat the forces of violence were being unleashed across the subcontinent, partly due to the compulsion such operations incur and partly to keep Indian army bogged down in Kashmir. Had there been no rigging in 1987, Russia-made AK 47 rifle would still make its debut in Kashmir; because the Afghan front had now cooled down. The poll debacle only hastened the process and provided a readymade excuse to the supporters of the armed uprising.

However, it would be foolhardy to dismiss the violent explosion of 1989 as entirely a ‘proxy war’. Pakistan, no doubt, supplied the guns but India’s long running apathy toward local emotions had been so acute that it induced a ‘will to die’ in the otherwise docile, easygoing Kashmiris. Proxy wars can be easily defeated if the population is free from any sense of deprivation, occupation or discrimination– let’s call it the 3D crisis.

If Kashmir had started limping back to normalcy in the early years of past decade, it was not only due to 9/11 strike on US. Neither was it because India had woken up to the need to accommodate the Kashmiri concerns about deprivation, dispossession and discrimination, yes the 3D crisis. The nine-eleven had, in fact, triggered a new war in Afghanistan, this time America sticking in the quicksand.

It is interesting to note how Afghanistan and Kashmir share a strange war-peace relationship. As NATO, with the help of Pakistan army, began their share of Afghan mission in 2001, Kashmir started showing signs of calm. Much like the 1979-89 decade the 2000-2009 witnessed lull in Kashmir violence and among other things a sudden reemergence of pro-India politics.

The reason why the Afghanistan conference that began in London on January 28, will have direct bearing on Kashmir is that it has been organised to legitimize the fresh call for engaging Taliban and sharing Afghanistan’s political and economic power with them. The call is simultaneously coming from Islamabad, Kabul and Washington. No wonder why J&K’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has given out a matching call urging militants for negotiations.

The crucial London summit should, therefore, not be mistaken as yet another conference on counter terrorism. It rather represents America’s radical switchover vis-à-vis its latest war. General McChrystal, US Army’s Afghanistan Chief, has made no bones about the need to negotiate peace with Taliban. Even an average analyst would see this statement as a stark admission of ‘defeat’. Remember, four-star general of a superpower army does not speak in air; the opinion that war in Afghanistan is increasingly becoming unwinnable has been sinking within the military discourse of Pentagon and its allies for past few years. If you cannot secure the palace of your loyal president in Kabul even as you fight the insurgents with full might for nine years, you better switch to plan B. Obama is already on way to implementing this plan B, which includes ‘re-empowering’ Taliban in lieu of peace ( or may be a graceful exit).

As the pattern since 1979 goes Kashmir needs to prepare for a fresh bout of disturbance. A new ruling coalition largely dominated by Taliban would not just represent America’s ‘tactical surrender’, it would embolden Pakistan. Pakistan army, as a host of news reports suggest, has all along been involved in Afghanistan insurgency by proxy. Now, if America is taking Pakistan on board and offering political power to Taliban, it only signifies Pakistan army’s second ‘victory’ since it connived with US to defeat the former superpower USSR in the same Afghanistan. Moreover, if Obama-Karzai-Zardari trio has its way in forging a pro-Taliban regime in Kabul, the forces that were running the show there, may be tasked to reorient themselves. China’s troubled Xinxiang won’t make a choice owing to Beijing’s solid ties with Islamabad and the late ‘patch up’ with US. So, will it be Mission Kashmir II?

It is difficult to say with certainty that the ‘Afghan wave’ would be finally made to spill over to Kashmir. But the major policy transition in US and Kabul makes it appear all too likely. India may be alive to the military challenges such a scenario could throw up but the question is has it been able to eliminate the ‘will to die’ from within the Kashmiri population.

If the incidents that occurred in past few weeks are any indicator, the 3D crisis seem running deeper than it was in 1989. Earlier we didn’t see people staging demonstrations during gunfights. Is it really hard to discern why Kashmiris would opt for violence if yet another anarchic moment came their way?

Kashmiris have never fought a war of choice. In all these 421 years of 3D crisis, they have always fought wars of survival. New Delhi cannot bring saints and monks together to curse Afghanistan that never-ending war inflict the country so that Kashmir remains peaceful. Afghanistan’s peace has always entailed war in Kashmir only because the ground here has all along remained fertile. Now, if India wants to eliminate the reasons for Kashmiris to revolt again, it should not wait for formal US withdrawal from Afghanistan. A word of caution: All the guile has been used up since 1947. Rallying Kashmiris around a mirage would be difficult now. Something real, yes real, need be done before the ‘Afghan wave’ touches our shores.