The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014 will impact the security situation in Indian Kashmir, a top Indian army commander has said. The top army commander in Indian-Occupied Kashmir has admitted that withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2014 will have an impact on the security situation, without elaborating on whether the impact will be positive or negative. It is for the first time that a top Indian army commander – or the Indian army, for that matter – has admitted that the US troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan will affect the situation in the territory occupied by India, and disputed between India and its neighbour, Pakistan.
“I think the American withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 will definitely have [an] affect on the security situation in Indian Kashmir,” Indian Army’s Northern Command chief Lt General Sanjiv Chachra told a private Indian TV channel, NDTV.
He said as a professional army, they are keeping “a tag of it”. “We will, as the drawdown comes closer, be able to see impact much more clearly, but I am sure it will have impact on the militant situation in Indian Kashmir”, said Lt Gen Chachra, who served as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of Chandimandir based Western Command from June 02, 2012 till June 30, 2013. He was appointed GOC-in-C of Udhampur based Northern Command on July 01, 2013.
Lt Gen Chachra said that the Indian army is prepared for any exigency. “We are a professional army. We are taking into account all these inputs and, in fact, these are thought processes that are actually going into our thinking for the future, how we are going to plan, and how we see what develops during and after 2014”. As GOC-in-C of Indian Army’ Western Command, Lt. Gen. Chachra was among the main general staff officers who developed and tested India’s “Cold Start” doctrine to mount short-term deep-strike offensives by Independent Battle Groups (IBGs – consisting of standalone armored, infantry, artillery, and air force units under a unified IBG command with a specific target objective and timeframe) into Pakistani territory in order to achieve military objectives such as destruction of “terrorist training camps” or military bases, and retreat back into India across the international border before the world community could blame India for being the aggressor or undertake sanctions against it. The chief architect of this “Cold Start” doctrine is former Indian army chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor, who said that India must be prepared for a war with both China and Pakistan at the same time under a “nuclear overhang” – what many considered to be a doomsday scenario for India, which would be engaged on two fronts with both adversaries having tactical field-level as well as longer-range nuclear weapons delivery systems, and with China having a clear conventional military advantage over India in land, in air and on sea. As Gen. Kapoor was making these statements a few weeks before his retirement, the comments were not given much weight, but provided a spectacular insight into what the Indian military mindset is really preparing itself for, and what its existing and future doctrinal concepts will be geared towards.
However, starting in 2009, Pakistan responded with four series of military exercises called “Azm-e-Nau” or “New Resolve”. These exercises were primarily designed to test new battle engagement and war-fighting concepts developed by the Pakistan army, including counter-insurgency management, dealing with irregular and asymmetric warfare, and conducting modern surveillance, reconnaissance, communication electronic warfare. In four phases, the Pakistan army conceived and executed “Azm-e-Nau” as a concept validation exercise; a part of the eternal preparedness philosophy of Pakistan army – particularly in response to Indian army’s strategies of “Cold Start” and devolution of command authority to IBGs instead of designated, stationary headquarters or command centers. Speaking about “Azm-e-Nau”, Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said that the exercise has helped in evolving a timely and effective response to emerging challenges that Pakistan is facing, and noted that these responses also rely on effective collaboration and coordination of various elements of all of the Pakistan Armed Forces, and not just the Pakistan Army. During phases of heightened tensions with India – and even with the US and Afghanistan on the western frontier after incursions from militants and after a deadly US attack on a Pakistani checkpost in November 2011 – Gen. Kayani announced that Pakistan would “respond within minutes” to any attack on its territorial integrity and sovereignty by any local or global military power, and in 2012, he authorized field commanders to fire on any intruders who try to illegally cross the Pak-Afghan border into Pakistan: whether they are militants, or Afghan security forces, or even international forces (US/NATO). The “respond within minutes” concept by various elements of the Pakistan Armed Forces – individually and collectively – is what is now referred to as the “Kayani Doctrine”, and is in force along the eastern as well as western borders of Pakistan; it has also been tested, improved and perfected through four phases of the “Azm-e-Nau” exercise. During the first part of “Azm-e-Nau” phase III, Gen. Kayani – along with then-Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani, federal ministers, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) Gen. Tariq Majid, Services Chiefs of the Pakistan Air Force and Pakistan Navy, and many Foreign Defence Attaches (FDAs) – witnessed the spectacular fire power exercise which included the integrated firing of various ground weapons, cobra gunship helicopters and Pakistan Air Force fighter aircrafts onto stationary and moving targets. Independent assessments conducted by international experts concluded that after “Azm-e-Nau” III and IV, the Pakistani military can decimate any IBG incursion across its eastern frontier with India by detecting violations of the border within fifteen to twenty minutes, eliminating land-based regimental-size IBG units within three to six hours, and pulverizing aerial IBG units within three to twelve hours, after which the Pakistan Air Force can not only exercise air supremacy in its own airspace, but – in lieu of reinforcements by the Indian military in place of the destroyed IBG – can also enjoy air superiority in adjoining Indian airspace for up to 30 nautical miles. However, since India and Pakistan are both nuclear weapon states, and are neighbours to China – an international military and economic superpower – it is still a big question mark as to whether any confrontation or engagement between the two traditional adversaries (India and Pakistan) would lead to a nuclear showdown, and if it would, what would be the parameters or “red lines” for use of nuclear weapons. India had officially adopted a “no-first-use” policy, which it quietly modified (in the past few years) to a “no-first-use against non-nuclear-weapons states” policy, which allows it to pre-emptively strike Pakistan or China with nuclear weapons. Pakistan does not have a “no-first-use” policy, and former President Musharraf, vehemently stated that he would not adopt such a policy, whereas recently retired President Asif Ali Zardari had offered to promulgate a “no-first-use” policy if India shows sincerity in returning to the negotiating table and discuss all issues and outstanding disputes – including Kashmir – in a solution-oriented manner. The Indian government – still hounded by the anti-Pakistan hawks, as always, and scared of making any peace overtures after 26/11 so as to not lose points on foreign policy in terms of the local Indian electorate – did not respond positively to President Zardari’s offer.
An armed insurgency has been going on in Indian-Occupied Kashmir since 1989 when Kashmiri youth took to the streets against Indian rule in the Jammu and Kashmir region. The civil society groups as well as separatist say that over 100,000 people have died in the violence so far – most of them victims or casualties of the Indian army’s excessive use of force either in the streets of the Occupied territory, or by capturing or kidnapping Kashmiri youth (male and female), torturing them, and then leaving their dead bodies for others to find. In some cases, Kashmiri youth having no links with separatists or with protesters have been arrested by security forces – police, or army, or both – only to be handed back to their families a couple of days later: many succumbed to the wounds inflicted on them by the Indian security forces, and died a few days after being returned to their families.
However, the government of the Occupied state – installed by the central government in New Delhi and functioning with the blessings of the Indian army’s Northern Command – has been saying that only 40,000 people have died in the violence that has gone on for more than two decades in the Occupied territories of Jammu and Kashmir.
India has been accusing Pakistan of allegedly waging proxy war in Indian-Occupied Kashmir by providing arms training to militants to augment the ongoing insurgency in the region. However, Pakistan has been continuously denying the charge, saying it is only providing moral and diplomatic support to people of Kashmir in their indigenous struggle for freedom from Indian rule.
Kashmiri citizens and civil society groups all over India protest over the treatment of the State of Jammu and Kashmir (the official term of the occupied territory as a part of the Indian confederation) as a colony and not as a full-fledged state, whose people do not enjoy the same rights as Indians in every other state do. Moreover, the Indian security forces deployed in the region have blanket authority to do as they please, often operating outside the ambit of their mandate and the parameters of the Indian army’s role in the occupied state. Security personnel who get posted in Occupied Kashmir also draw a greater salary and incur more benefits than others at the same rank or post, but in different states: an incentive that was initiated by the Indian government a long time ago to encourage people to volunteer to serve in the Kashmir police, in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) paramilitary, and in the Indian army units (3 Corps, stationed in Leh (XIV Corps), Srinagar (XV Corps) and Nagrota (XVI Corps), unified under the Indian army’s Northern Command headquartered at Udhampur) stationed in Jammu and Kashmir.
India blames Pakistan for training and deploying proxies to fight the Indian army in Kashmir, and continues to blame Lashkar-e-Toiba, a defunct Pakistani organization, for orchestrating and masterminding the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. At the same time, India supports apprehensions in the West and the U.S. that Pakistan continues to support the Afghan Taliban the same way that it (Pakistan) supported their rise to power in Afghanistan in 1994. However, Pakistan has been fighting on the frontline of the War on Terror, as an ally and main supply route of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and has also suffered a huge backlash from pro-Taliban elements in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas. Since 2007, a group called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been attacking the Pakistani state and the military, which it calls “infidels” since it sided with the US in attacking Afghanistan’s Muslims and helped in ousting the Taliban. So far, Pakistan has suffered more than 30,000 civilian casualties and at least 5,000 military casualties as a result of terror attacks – it has incurred more military casualties and injuries as a result of various military operations that it has undertaken in the tribal and settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, such as South Waziristan agency, Bajaur agency, Mohmand agency, and most notably, Swat in Malakand division, which fell into Taliban hands in 2007, but was recovered in a series of deadly engagements in 2009, when the Pakistan army went on an all-out assault against TTP groups and other anti-state elements, including groups and cells affiliated with Al Qaeda. The Pakistan army uncovered and eliminated foreigners, including Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, and other nationalities during this, codenamed “Operation Rah-e-Rast”. The TTP even targeted Pakistan army’s main headquarters located in Rawalpindi, the GHQ, in October 2009.
Many analysts are concerned about the security situation in Afghanistan and its impact on the region after US forces and their NATO allies pull out of Afghanistan in 2014, leaving only a “skeleton crew” of trainers and advisers behind. Even though the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) built up by money and training from the West are now 340,000-strong, their battle-readiness has been under constant test by the Afghan Taliban, who are battle-hardened since the past three decades (from the start of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when they commenced their nationalist battle to free their homeland from foreign occupiers, with great help from Pakistan, United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and other Western countries). Many senior military analysts consider the ANSF to be ill-equipped to deal with the Taliban on their own, since the militia has given the US forces as well as the NATO forces a tough time since 2005, when they reinitiated their insurgency against international troops.
Much depends on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that Afghan President Karzai (or his successor in 2014) signs with the US or with NATO, while Afghanistan already has a strategic agreement in place with India (which does not have any overt military clauses). If there is no SOFA for foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan post-2014, there is a great likelihood that the Afghan Taliban can return to power – either by use of force, fighting and degrading the ANSF as set up and developed by international forces according to their model of a modern military force: the exact model that the Afghan Taliban have continued to deal with and defeat for almost a decade now. However, efforts are under way for the Afghan Taliban leadership to lay down their arms and stop fighting the insurgency against the US as well as against the governance structure and Afghan leaders they have put in place of the Taliban since 2001. In this light, the Taliban were allowed to open up a political office in Doha, Qatar, but controversies arose over petty issues such as the plaque, insignia and flag on the political office. Such issues continue to plague peace talks between the main parties involved in the Afghan conflict – the Taliban, the Afghan government led by President Karzai, and the US. Though the Afghan government has set up a High Peace Council to discuss the way forward for durable peace in Afghanistan, and to bring the Taliban cadres and leadership into mainstream Afghan society, the Afghan Taliban’s position is that they will directly and only negotiate with the US, since they consider the Afghan government and President Karzai to be puppets of a regime set up by the West in Afghanistan. During peace talks in Paris, Taliban representatives have also hinted that they might enter into a power-sharing deal or agreement with the US, or with the incumbent Afghan government, for no less than a 50% share in any political dispensation – since the Taliban are mostly Pushtun, the ethnic majority of the Afghan nation, the Taliban believe they are entitled to such a proportion in the future government of Afghanistan. The Taliban have also called for amendments to Afghanistan’s Constitution and for the release of all Taliban prisoners: in terms of the latter demand, Pakistan has recently released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar – a co-founder of the Taliban and key confidante of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the spiritual, political and military leader of the Afghan Taliban. Mullah Baradar was considered to be the commander of the Taliban ground forces in Afghanistan, and was captured in Karachi in February 2010 when the CIA and ISI conducted a joint raid. As such, according to Pakistani national security adviser Sartaj Aziz, Mullah Baradar “will be released inside Pakistan and will not be handed over to Afghanistan” on September 21, 2013 – nevertheless, the Afghan government responded positively, saying that it lauds the decision of the release, which would pave the way for negotiation between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban.