Dawn News

Death of a quintessential Jihadi

Supporters of the Pakistani religious party Jamaat-e-Islami chant slogans during a rally against drone attacks, in Karachi, Pakistan, Saturday, June 4, 2011. – AP Photo

Within five weeks of the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden, a CIA drone has cut short the life of Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri, a top al Qaeda commander and possible successor to its slain founder.

A veteran of all four 'Jihads' waged in South Asia – two in Afghanistan, one in India and one in Pakistan – Kashmiri was a quintessential Jihadi whose life followed a trajectory that encompasses the history of project jihad in Pakistan. Starting his career from the Afghanistan war, he rose to a legendary status in the Kashmir insurgency before returning to the Pak-Afghan border to join al Qaeda and finally turning the gun on his own people and military.

We do not know how he was recruited to fight in Afghanistan but we can guess that he was enlisted by a religio-political party like the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) that was actively involved in the process. As a young man in his twenties, Kashmiri showed his promise on the front by becoming a mining expert – a skill that helped him become an instructor to the Mujahideen.

Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the former head of JI, once explained to me that the real significance of Afghan Jihad against the Soviets lay in the fact that it was Ummul Jihad (Mother of many Jihads). Amongst the numerous children of the Afghan Jihad, the Jihad in Kashmir was the first born.  In 1992, the Mujahideen overran Kabul and the Peshawar Accord was signed for power sharing. Around this time, Kashmir became the most important Jihadi battleground. The JI, once again leading the recruitment drive, came up with an innovative slogan that captured the dominant Jihadi spirit of the time: "Ham Jashn-e-Kabul mana chukay, ab aao chalo Kashmir chalain" (We have celebrated our victory in Kabul, Let’s go to Kashmir now).

Though a number of Afghan veterans like Kashmiri moved to the new warfront, the Kashmir Jihad produced a whole new crop of Jihadis, comprising mostly of school or college drop-outs from lower middle class background. Contrary to the JI slogan, the Jashan (festival) in Kabul did not end the bloodshed. Nor did it end the Jihad in Afghanistan that continued simultaneously. In fact, the Jihad heated up on a third front with sectarian becoming rife in Pakistan. Some Jihadi organisations worked on all the three fronts and Kashmiri was affiliated with one such organisation.

He joined the Kashmir chapter of Harkatul Jihad-i-Islami (HJI), headed by Qari Saifullah in 1991, and later formed his own 313 Brigade within HJI after he fell out with the latter.  These organisations alongside some other jihadi outfits were so close to the Taliban that their fighters were called the Pakistani Taliban or Punjabi Taliban while serving in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, many of them actively indulged in sectarianism.

In Kashmir, the Jihadis were faced with a very large and ruthless army and they were often able to outdo the enemy in ferocity. A Lashkar-e-Taiba (LT) fighter once explained to me smilingly how it was useful to mutilate and disembowel the body of an India solider to “instill fear in the heart of the infidels”.  I also met a young fighter at the annual congregation of LT who was named Abu Haibat (father of terror) because he had brought from Kashmir the ultimate Jihad trophy – the severed head of an India solider.

According to news reports, Ilyas Kashmiri also ambushed an Indian post and brought back the head of an Indian solider after a village on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control was attacked by Indian soldiers. This, according to Hamid Mir, the famous journalist and anchor, turned him into a blue eyed boy of General Pervez Musharraf who also gave him a cash award for bravery.

With 9/11 and subsequent US attack on Afghanistan, the story of Jihad and life of Kashmiri took a decisive and a whole new turn. The tap on Kashmir Jihad was turned off without making any effort to integrate thousands of young men who had been militarily trained, who were ideologically motivated and who lacked any marketable skills to start new lives. Alongside his 313 Brigade and many other fighters, Kashmiri joined hands with al Qaeda, vowing to fight USA and the state of Pakistan. He soon rose to a level of prominence and notoriety that he had never enjoyed before.

The list of attacks in which Kashmiri’s hand is suspected is long. He was accused of trying to murder Musharraf in 2003 and later his name was linked to numerous attacks in Pakistan and abroad including an attack on the US consulate in Karachi and the Mumbai attacks in 2008. Once considered an asset himself, days before his death Kashmiri inflicted the most serious peace time damage to Pakistan’s defence assets by organising an attack on the PNS Mehran in Karachi.  According to US officials, he was al Qaeda’s military operations chief in Pakistan and carried a head money of $5 million.

Though his links with the Special Services Group remain unverified to date, it is ironical that Kashmiri, who joined a CIA-sponsored jihad in Afghanistan in the 80s, was killed by a Hellfire missile fired from a CIA drone on June 3, 2011. Leaving behind a path of death and destruction, Kashmiri will go down in the annals of history as the home boy of terrorism.

Zaigham Khan is a journalist and policy analyst. He heads Civic Action Resources, an Islamabad based development consultancy.

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Comments (18) Closed

Jun 07, 2011 08:29pm
Kashmiri's death is a great win for Pakistan and the region. It is hard to imagine that he would be the hero to anyone, unhappily that is not the case. The above article was very informative, but I thought it eulogized the terrorist too much.
nizamuddin khan
Jun 08, 2011 05:01am
I guess the question to be raised now is that how many more Ilyas Kashmiris are currently active in Pakistan right now? They are deemed as heroes at times and then someday they become enemies. As I was reading the article I was wondering how come ISI or any other agency never arrested Kashmiri...why was he able to move around freely?
Jun 08, 2011 08:32am
Explain to me again, what was the moral of this story? Is this supposed to be an eulogy? Do we all agree that this guy was a terrorist responsible for the death of several innocent people?
Jun 08, 2011 09:43am
As you sow , so shall you reap
Robert Luse
Jun 08, 2011 11:16am
I don't know about him being a quintessential Jihadi, but he is clearly a quintessential cold blooded mass murderer.
Sachin Arora
Jun 08, 2011 01:48pm
Very nice article. It clearly proves that by encourging terrorist like Ilyas Kashmiri, Most damage is done to Pakistan only. We hope better sense preveil in the current leadership of Pakistan and leasons are learnt from past policies towards Jihadi Groups.
Bharat Kumar
Jun 08, 2011 02:03pm
Ilyas Kashmiri, killed hundred of people, mostly innocent, non combatants. Did / do Pakistan really hope that men, who was allowed to escape the rigor of civilized living, with the help of an assault rifle and instant recognition in the name of Jihad, would really go back to domestication and civil living anytime? Selective amnesia and conspiracy theories will take one nowhere. Fact remains that a section of the population, has been used as cannon fodder using Jihadi Philosophy to achieve national objectives, with plausible deniability. One can just sympathize with the common Pakistani citizen, who is bearing the brunt of archaic and medieval principal of statehood that the power that rule Pakistan has.
Bharat Hiteshi
Jun 08, 2011 04:04pm
Hello Nizamuddin Khan, You ask a very bold question with a very simple answer. B. Hiteshi
Jun 08, 2011 04:49pm
A description befitting USA as well for its indiscriminate bombardment and murder of both civilian and non civilian targets.
K Singh
Jun 08, 2011 05:45pm
Pakistan has sown the wind and will now reap the whirlwind. Unfortunately, these are a million whirlwinds - each of which is very strong. I think that now it will be a matter of it's survival. And I hope and pray that Pakistan survives (Let there be no thought about integrating with India or any other country, we all strongly believe Pakistan should stand on its own feet) and eventually grows to be a great country. But right now there are very bad times ahead of it. All the best.
Patrick Jones
Jun 08, 2011 05:53pm
Gen. Musharaff rewarded him for beheading a soldier. Kashmiri then turned on Musharaff. What an irony. How many more Kashimiris are there now, waiting to be 'hellfired'?
Jun 08, 2011 06:55pm
My dear friend, This is called objective reporting. State the facts without injecting your own biases and opinions, and let the readers make up their own mind. Did this article read like a eulogy to you? it did not to me?
Jun 08, 2011 07:05pm
v need good governance t stop creation of kashmiris out of our young blood. and good governance remains a distant dream.Becuse there isnt a better leadership in sight.
Dev Saha
Jun 08, 2011 07:08pm
Kashmiri could have been dead before he was born! But he was not! He killed more Pakistanis rather than despised infidels.
Jun 08, 2011 07:12pm
I really wonder that how religion makes people barbaric.
Rizwan Khan
Jun 08, 2011 07:14pm
Kashmiri and people like him are a curse to Pakistan. Pakistan needs organic growth and not a 2Billion $ beggar's aid from superpowers. We must focus on economic growth rather than wars and terrorism and jihad for the better of our future generation and overall world.
ahmed ali
Jun 08, 2011 07:48pm
the top ledership of JUI and JI did not send their son or relative for so call jehad...only sons of poor people were used as fodder
Jun 08, 2011 07:55pm
Ilyas Kashmiri's death is a solacefor to the families of hundred of innocents who died as result of his terror in Pakistan and beyond. As far JI and establishment's role in creating and then dumping their assessts one can hope that they would stop playing with human lives.