Govt must step up outreach in J-K amid Taliban triumph in Afghanistan: Ex-Army chief

Kolkata: The government needs to step up its outreach in Jammu and Kashmir, reassuring the people that India will continue to be a secular democracy as the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan is likely to trigger a renewed offensive by Pakistan-based terror groups in the region, former Army chief General Shankar Roychowdhury said.

Gen Roychowdhury, who commanded the 16 corps in Kashmir at the height of the militancy in the early 1990s, said buoyed by the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Pakistan “will make a fresh bid on Kashmir”.

He said that India needs to reach out to former Afghan government forces rallying around Ahmad Massoud, son of late legendary anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, in Panjshir Valley, besides the factions within the Taliban that are friendlier to India.

“We have to step up our outreach to Kashmiris, we also have to re-assure them that India will continue to be a secular democracy,” he told PTI in an interview.

The 1999 hijack of the Indian Airlines plane to Kandahar by Pakistani terrorists is believed to have been with active cooperation of the earlier Taliban regime. India had to exchange top terrorists, including Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) founder Masood Azhar, for the passengers and the crew.

“We need to understand that the (Taliban) victory in Afghanistan is being seen (by terror groups) as a Pakistani victory and India’s defeat… We have to organise ourselves for a renewed offensive by elements like the JeM,” said Gen Roychowdhury, a veteran of the 1965 and 1971 wars, besides several counter-insurgency operations.

“We have to be prepared for Pakistani intentions (covert operations), supported by radical elements here,” he added.

A study by French think-tank Centre d’ analyse du terrorisme (Centre for Analysis of Terrorism) published last week warned of the possibility of “more operational coordination between Pakistan-supported groups like the Lashkar e Toiba and JeM, and the Taliban”.

India steadfastly refused to do business with the Taliban regime of the 1990s, which it saw as a proxy for Pakistan’s military.

India continued to support the remnants of the Afghan government and later the Northern Alliance, aiding them with training and supplies.

Gen Roychowdhury, who at present heads think-tank Research Centre for Eastern and Northeastern Studies, said India’s role in Afghanistan should revolve around providing training, relief materials and above all giving refuge to those who seek shelter.

“People of Afghanistan remain our friends and we must be willing to give them refuge,” he said.

He also warned that while Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina are on good terms, opposition forces in Bangladesh, which include “the entire radical set-up”, would be re-invigorated by the Taliban take over and they “may not let this chance slip by”.

There has been a disquiet in India’s security community about the possibility of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh drawing upon released Bangladeshi Taliban fighters, increasing their activities in bordering Indian states.