America exits Afghanistan, trouble may come visiting India
Fighters now focused on resisting US-led troops may shift toward Jammu and Kashmir. The United States' 60,000 troops will be halved by February 2014 in Afghanistan. What happens after that is a worry for the entire subcontinent.world Updated: Nov 09, 2013 15:59 IST
India is bracing for more militancy in battle-scarred Jammu and Kashmir, believing that fighters now focused on resisting US-led troops in Afghanistan will shift toward the flashpoint with Pakistan.
Some say increased violence recently along India's heavily militarised border with Pakistan proves that shift is already underway.
As a result, India is increasing use of drones, thermal sensors and foot patrols as it tries to catch out any battle-hardened militants moving through the forested mountains near the frontier. At the same time, India's troops have increasingly been engaging in skirmishes with Pakistan's military.
The United States' 60,000 troops will be halved by February 2014 in Afghanistan and troops from the UK (7,900), Germany (4,400), Italy (2,800), Poland (1,550) and Georgia (1,550) will all pull out by the end of 2014.
Rebels "are testing us. They're making their presence felt by launching audacious attacks," an Indian army commander in Kashmir said on condition of anonymity in line with army policy. "They have started recruiting young people into their folds. They are training some of these boys locally."
US officials and experts acknowledge there are valid concerns. Though the US government has not discussed such a risk publicly, the chief of its forces in the Pacific says the US is increasingly discussing terrorist movements with countries in the region.
"We are thinking about it more and more each day, and this includes dialogue with our partners in India and Pakistan," admiral Samuel Locklear told reporters in Washington this week.
Some Pakistani analysts believe the country's army leaders have little interest in rocking the boat now, raising the worrying possibility that the recent violence was sparked by militants who have gone rogue or are operating in cooperation with lower-level officials sympathetic to their cause.
"We need to be vigilant, we need to be prepared and we need to be alert for any such eventuality," the Indian Army's Northern Commander Lt Gen Sanjiv Chachra said in a TV interview recently. "I think the drawdown (of US forces in the region) will definitely have effect. As a professional army we are keeping a tag of it."
Within India "there is widespread anticipation that Pakistan will divert elements of Jihadi forces (in Afghanistan) to this side," GK Pillai, a former Indian home secretary, said.
In the past, some rebels in Kashmir were either trained in Afghanistan or were Afghan nationals, India says.
"Our worry is not the number of militants," the Indian army commander said on condition of anonymity. "The worry is the quality of the people who are likely to come. They're battle-hardened, aggressive and smart. They know the warfare."
This year's fighting between India and Pakistan has unusually extended southward from the Line of Control to border areas that are not disputed by India. And while Pakistani troops in the past would fire across the border to provide cover for infiltrating militants, such fire is now coming regardless of any rebels being present, according to police chief Ashok Prasad in Kashmir.
"Even if we are mad, why should we be creating trouble at this point of time when we are in so much trouble ourselves?" said retired Pakistani diplomat Riaz Hussain Khokhar, who served as ambassador to India and as foreign secretary helped negotiate the 2003 cease-fire. Pakistan is dealing with its own domestic insurgencies, a moribund economy and fears that Afghanistan will implode when the US combat mission ends. "There is no effort on the part of Pakistan to send in militants at this point of time."
Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif and India's Manmohan Singh agreed in September to work on reducing border hostilities.
But even as they spoke, their armies were lobbing mortar shells at each other. The next month, the fighting spread to southern border areas that had been largely peaceful for a decade, prompting officials on both sides to call it the most serious fighting in a decade.