jump to navigation

Does the Kashmir insurgency offer ISAF any tips? July 30, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Pakistan, Snedden, Christopher , trackback

Christopher Snedden

Indian paramilitary forces have been trying to end the anti-Indian insurgency in the Kashmir Valley since it began in 1988. Nevertheless, this insurgency continues, with ethnic Kashmiris currently agitated again. Overall, however, casualties are down, tourists have returned in large numbers to the valley, and many Kashmiris are less inclined to support the militancy. This is partly due to war weariness. It also is partly because the alternative of joining Pakistan is relatively unattractive, while independence is totally unattainable. The Kashmir insurgency is very different from what the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confronts in Afghanistan.  Yet there are some similarities from which ISAF could learn some lessons.

First, from the outset of its troubles in the Kashmir Valley, the Indian government’s commitment in Jammu and Kahsmir (J&K) has been open ended. India has never set a date for the departure of its security forces. Repeatedly, it has made it clear that these forces will stay in the valley for ‘as long as it takes’. Conversely, governments reluctantly associated with ISAF want to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan as soon as possible or have suggested dates when exit strategies might commence. This has given the Taliban a powerful reason to conserve their resources and await their enemies’ invariable departure from Afghanistan after which, presumably, they will really assert themselves.

Second, India has been able to stem the flow of militants crossing the Line of Control (LOC) that divides J&K. These militants chiefly come from Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir, in which, or near, India alleges that a number of training camps are located. To attack these camps would seriously escalate India-Pakistan tensions.  Instead, India’s has used a variety of tactics to reduce the number of anti-Indian elements seeking to enter the Kashmir Valley or, in more recent years, remoter parts of Jammu. It has fenced and alarmed large parts of the LOC, engaged in more efficient patrolling, collected better intelligence, secured the support of locals, and sought to ensure that forces guarding the LOC are less susceptible to taking bribes from ‘generous’ militants. Conversely, ISAF has been unable to stem the flow of anti-ISAF forces and materiel into Afghanistan, either from Pakistan or, to a lesser extent, from Iran.  Both of these borders are almost totally porous.

Third, India has injected significant numbers of paramilitary forces into the Kashmir Valley to confront, control and/or kill anti-Indian militants. It is impossible to know how many exactly, but some reports suggest that India has ‘400,000 combined army and paramilitary forces in Kashmir, most of which are stationed in the interior [of J&K], 80,000 of which are deployed along the LoC’.  They confront ‘Various Kashmiri insurgent groups and “guest militants” [i.e. non-Kashmiris, who] combined now may number between 4,000 to 5,000 active combatants’. (www.stimson.org/southasia/). In addition, India has been able to better arm and train local police to help ensure local security. It also has induced some militants to give up their arms. By comparison, ISAF has some 135,000 troops, plus 223,000 Afghan Security Forces (Army and Police) of varying qualities and abilities (www.brookings.edu), who are confronting perhaps 25,000—and possibly increasing—Taliban (www.military.com/news/).  The difference in total numbers and the ratio of security personnel to militant are instructive.

Fourth, India has successfully pressured Pakistan to reduce—but not yet to end—its support for anti-Indian militants. Granted, world events such as ‘9/11’ and ISAF’s entry into Afghanistan have helped India enormously. After 9/11, New Delhi successfully re-badged ‘freedom fighting militants’ as ‘terrorists’—thus attaching significant negative connotations to these anti-social elements and the nations that support them. Until the Mumbai terrorist incidents in November 2008, India’s also was able to pressure Pakistan through their Composite Dialogue, one of the eight topics of which was ‘terrorism and drug-trafficking’. In Afghanistan, ISAF invariably refers to its enemy as ‘the Taliban’, not terrorists. It has no official engagement with them. Despite the best efforts of Pakistani and US diplomats, it still has a difficult relationship with the Pakistan Army, one of the Taliban’s main, albeit secretive, supporters.

Fifth—and perhaps most importantly, India continues to be supported by some significant Kashmiris. In 2002 and 2008, India used its security forces to ensure that reasonably free and fair elections were held in J&K. These polls enabled the continuation of civilian rule by Kashmiri-dominated, pro-Indian governments in which power is disbursed through the executive and the legislature. In Afghanistan, ISAF has been unable to harness local support, despite many Afghans apparently disliking the Taliban as much as ISAF does. ISAF is hampered by having an Afghan president whom many consider to be unrepresentative, has too much power concentrated in his hands, and/or is corrupt. Finally, ISAF has struggled to enforce sufficient stability so that aid agencies can leave ‘Kabulistan’ and provide much-needed development in other parts of Afghanistan.

While India and ISAF often act in a patriarchal way in their respective areas of operations, ISAF is in the weaker position. India is fighting in what it considers to be its own territory; ISAF is an outside international force that many Afghans consider to be an invader.  India has a smaller, ethnically homogenous area to subdue; ISAF has a larger, ethnically diverse area to stabilise.  India has significant local knowledge, linguists who understand Kashmiri and the languages of the ‘foreign’ (i.e. non-Kashmiri) militants, and its own intelligence collection capabilities; ISAF’s knowledge of Afghanistan seems poor, it lacks Pashto speakers and, if Wikileaks’ ‘Afghan War Diary, 2004-2010’ is any guide, it is reliant on (possibly dubious or self-interested) Afghan sources of information. Given these deficiencies, the best that ISAF might hope to achieve is to create conditions that enable it to leave Afghanistan soon, hopefully with some honour.


1. Kisholoy - December 6, 2010

Despite knowing the movement of insurgents from Pakistan encouraged by the Government, nay, the Pakistan Army,the U.S.A. is still pumping in resources into Pakistan!.

2. Vikas Kumar - December 8, 2010

A crucial similarity between the Afghan and Kashmiri insurgencies is not discussed in the above article. In both cases a sizeable faction of insurgents enjoys religious legitimacy, which has not be credibly challenged by ISAF and the Indian government.

In recent times, it has been argued that NATO can no longer afford to remain neutral in the ideological war within South Asian Islam. NATO needs to extend the war on terror to the ideological front if it wants to win local allies and emerge victorious.

See, for instance, http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2010/07/10/natos-war-on-terror-needs-a-strategic-reorientation/