Kashmir has always had a rather unfortunate linkage with Afghanistan. The brief Afghan rule over valley from 1750 to 1819 is universally regarded as ‘dark age’ by the Kashmiris. In that year a Kashmiri delegation went to Lahore and requested Maharaja Ranjit Singh for help in liberating the valley from Afghan rule. The valley had its second brush with Afghans when in October 1947 Pakistan backed tribesmen invaded Kashmir valley. Besides the depredations by the tribal invaders, the historical memories of miseries of Afghan rule were responsible for the support to the Indian army in valley.
Towards the end of 20th century, the situation had turned topsy- turvy. Islamic radicalization has ousted the Kashmiri Sufi Islam. Tribals and all variety of fighters were welcomed in the valley. Even an American, John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, did a stint of fighting in the valley. The victory of Mujahideen forces over erstwhile Soviet Union, was the inspiration for revolt in the valley. Pakistan, fearful of the threat from ‘unemployed’ JIhadis after Afghan war, saw Kashmir as a useful outlet for the surplus militants.
Luckily for India, 9/11 happened and the erstwhile darling Mujahideen fighters overnight became ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ for the West. Indian success in curbing violent militancy in the valley owes some debt to this changed perception in the US and West. At the very least it gave us a degree of freedom to act in Kashmir valley without the constant pin pricking from international groups. Later several attacks by Islamist militants in Europe have given rise to degree of Islam phobia in the West. While the situation is unlikely to return to the 1990s when the US Secretary of State Madeline Albright was a vocal supporter of the Kashmiri terrorists, we must however brace for a lukewarm/indifferent US approach in 2019-2020 period. The reference here is to the ongoing talks between Taliban and the US.
Not much is publicly known about the Taliban-US talks under Pakistani sponsorship. However it is fair to assume that the US will be willing to withdraw from Afghanistan on getting an assurance from Taliban that the Afghan territory will not be used for anti US activities. Pakistan may well stand guarantee for the same.
Afghan war has been the longest running war fought by the US. In 2020 the US election cycle will be on. Mr. Donald Trump may well make the ‘getting the boys home’ as the theme song of his re-election campaign. This will indeed be a double win win situation for Pakistan. A grateful US is likely to restore its arms supply and spares to the Pak war machine. The US may also ‘gift’ heavy equipment left over in Afghanistan to Pakistan- since the cost of taking it back to the US would be prohibitive. An emboldened Pakistan, free from its ‘two front’ dilemma will then concentrate fully on its ‘unfinished agenda of partition-Kashmir’.
In addition to the material help that will begin to pour in to Kashmir Mujahideen, a victory over the US (as the American withdrawal will be interpreted) will boost the morale of terrorists in the valley and beyond. Pakistan will again facilitate the induction of battle hardened Taliban into Kashmir as was the case in the 1990s.
Given this likely scenario for 2019-20, Indian has to brace for an aggressive Pakistan, increased terrorism in Kashmir and rest of the country. India ought to hike its military budget and speed up procurement of weapon that would help her retaliate to Kargil like misadventure.
In addition to the military measures, on the political front, India should withdraw its case from the UN and signal its resolve by asking the UN Observer group to wind up and leave.
One fervently prays that the 2019 election does not throw up an unstable government. Else we are in for a repeat of inaction of 26/11 when a bunch of ten terrorist held a country of 100 crores at ransom for 72 hours.