Reminiscences of Ilays Kashmiri

By Zafar Iqbal

I found Ilyas Kashmiri relatively different from other radical commanders and fighters whom I managed to chat during my journalistic career. Kashmiri was the only prominent militant leader who was always in a commando uniform.  He was not a perfect communicator. Most of his answers, which were embedded with traditional assertion of ‘fight against the infidels’, were supported and supplemented by his spokesperson and fellow guerillas. However, Kashmiri was an incredibly proficient militant and strategist and his future plans and actions proved this capability and tactical expertise. 

In spite of his global notoriety and tarnished publicity, apparently his personality was not so impressive.  He is believed to have lost his eye and an index finger in battle in Afghanistan fighting for Afghan militants to repel Soviet Union.

Those days the existence of any foreign militants was uncommon in Kashmiri militant cadres, therefore, the mysterious appearance of some foreigners, especially white Europeans in a Kashmiri training camp was reasonably bizarre for me. The officials of 313 Brigade, which was a Muslim fighter group formed and led by Kashmiri, stopped me to have any interaction or communication with foreign ‘Mujahedeen’. It was obvious that some of them were Chechens or Arabs who were shifted to disputed Kashmir region with their trainer Ilyas Kashmiri after the end of fight with Soviet Union in Afghanistan where Kashmiri had developed robust relationship with Afghans and non Afghan mercenaries during 1970s to 1980s. 

Since the beginning of insurgency in Indian Kashmir in 1989, the center of most of Kashmiri origin militants’ organizations has been Indian held Kashmir; nonetheless, Kashmiri’s 313 Brigade had a different agenda. “Kashmir is merely a small laboratory of our wider struggle, which we will launch against Americans and their collaborators in Muslim world,” Kashmiri vowed.

‘We are waiting for the right time to mount Jihad against the Westerners, specially the imperialist designs of the US.’ he narrated with unyielding conviction. 

When former Pakistani president General Musharraf started a crackdown against extremists groups, Kashmiri was arrested in connection with an attempt to assassinate Gen Musharraf in December 2003, but released due to a lack of evidence. After the release, Kashmiri relocated his base to Pakistan’s semi-autonomous   tribal belt in 2005 and started fighting against Pakistani and the US targets along with other Jihadist groups.

Earlier, besides Lashker Taiba (LeT), Kashmiri has been valuable asset for Pakistani establishment effectively used in a proxy war in Indian Kashmir.  Ilyas Kashmiri was described once a member of the Pakistani Army’s elite Special Services Group (SSG). Former Pakistani president and then Army chief General Musharaff   rewarded Kashmiri with Rs 1 lakh for beheading “the head of an Indian officer” in 2000 along disputed region of Kashmir. Consequently, Kashmiri got enormous publicity in local press and his image carrying the head of a 24 year Indian solider in his hand was widely published on the title pages of many pro-Jihad publications.

In recent years Kashmiri has been blamed for numerous attacks in Pakistan, including the two most embarrassing assaults on the military – a siege on a naval air base in Karachi last month and in October 2009 on the national army headquarters in Rawalpindi.  Kashmiri was thought to be having been killed in 2009, but resurfaced a year later.

47-year-old Kashmir was one of five most-wanted militant leaders in the country accused of a string of bloody attacks in Pakistan and India as well as aiding plots in the West, including a planned attack on a Danish newspaper that published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in 2005. Kashmiri is also said to have ties with David Coleman Headley, the American citizen who confessed to helping scout targets for the Mumbai attack in November 2008 which claimed 164 lives.

Considering his extraordinary role in anti-Western Jihadist network, Washington had offered a $5 million reward for information about the whereabouts of Kashmiri. While, analysts had labeled Kashmiri a possible Osama bin Laden successor describing him as one of Pakistan’s most dangerous, strategic and capable militants.

No doubt, the death of Kashmiri is an enormous blow for Al-Qaida, which already is besieged under inescapable series of drone attacks and due to the death of its chief Bin Laden. However, time will prove how followers of Kashmiri respond and tackle to this irrecoverable loss.

(The writer is freelance journalist and researcher. He could be accessed at: zafarjournalist@gmail.com)

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