By Zia Ur Rehman and Javed Aziz Khan

ISLAMABAD – Security commentators and political analysts believe the death of Ilyas Kashmiri will be a major organisational setback for al-Qaeda, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other extremist groups in the region.

”]Among those sharing this view is security analyst Brig. (Ret.) Shaukat Qadir, who said Kashmiri was considered one of al-Qaeda’s most dangerous military commanders and was the suspected mastermind behind some of the worst attacks in Pakistan of late.

Kashmiri was accused of involvement in high-profile attacks and bombings inside Pakistan, including assassination attempts against former president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Qadir said. Kashmiri also allegedly co-ordinated a 2009 attack on Pakistan Army Headquarters and the assault on Mehran naval base in Karachi last month.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed the June 4 death of Kashmiri, leader of Harkat-ul-Jehad Islami (HuJI) and al-Qaeda’s chief strategist, in a missile attack in South Waziristan.

“I can confirm that Ilyas Kashmiri has been killed,” SAMAA News reported Malik as saying June 6. The confirmation from Pakistani officials came one day after Malik said that despite lack of physical evidence he was “98%” sure Kashmiri was dead.

Media outlets have reported that Kashmiri, 47, was killed along with eight other militants in a missile attack on an apple orchard in Ghwakhwa town, not far from Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan Agency.

Others killed were identified as Ameer Hamza, Mohammad Ibrahim, Mohammad Usman, Mohammad Nauman, Farooq Ahmad, Qari Abdul Qudoos and Mohammad Imran. Authorities have not identified one of the dead.

Qari Idrees, a leader of the HuJI, confirmed the killing of Kashmiri and 12 other people, The News reported. Qari said the other slain militants were buried in a graveyard in Gundai village, near Wana, but he didn’t mention the location of Kashmiri’s grave.

Kashmiri’s rise in al-Qaeda

Central Asia Online exclusively reported Kashmiri’s rise within al-Qaeda ranks in November, noting the United Nations labelled him a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” in August. That put him in the same league with Osama bin Laden. Western sources have connected him to planning attacks in Europe, which was part of the reason the United Nations upgraded his terrorist status.

Kashmiri took control of al-Qaeda’s military forces in Pakistan after its prior leader, Abdullah Sa’ad al Libi, was killed in an air strike in late 2008, Qadir said, and Kashmiri was among the top five most-wanted terrorists.

Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban have suffered two serious blows in about a month; the May 2 death of bin Laden and now that of Kashmiri, he added.

The death of al-Qaeda leader bin Laden in Abbottabad May 2 and now the death of Kashmiri are good omens for peace in Pakistan, Senior Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour said.

“They were killing innocent people, and their deaths will be a turning point,” Bilour said.

The importance of Kashmiri within al-Qaeda is evident because he was the only South Asian and non-Arab attending high-profile meetings of the al-Qaeda leadership, said Ahmed Wali, a senior journalist who covers militancy-related issues. Some observers had mentioned Kashmir as a possible successor to bin Laden, he said.

Kashmiri’s activities scattered

Kashmiri’s subversive activities were not limited to Pakistan as he had reportedly played a major role in plotting suicide terrorist attacks against the Afghan government and security installations in Afghanistan, Wali said.

Kashmiri also led Lashkar-e-Zil (Shadow Army), a major offshoot of al-Qaeda, The Herald reported in its June issue. The Herald, a monthly magazine published by Dawn News, said the Lashkar-e-Zil consists of recruits from different nationalities. The group is believed to be scattered in the North and South Waziristan, and is thought to have conducted attacks against Afghan and coalition forces in Kuner, Nuristan, Kabul, Wardak and other provinces of Afghanistan.

“The killing of Kashmiri is a major success in the ongoing war against the militancy in the region, and his killing is also a major setback for Punjabi militant groups operating in the tribal regions,” said Idress Kamal, a leader of Aman Tehreek, a regional civil society alliance formed against the militancy.

After the killing of bin Laden, al-Qaeda lost its leadership while Pakistani militants also lost their leader after Kashmiri’s killing,” Kamal told Central Asia Online. Kamal described the HuJI as an alliance of several Punjabi militant outfits that have carried out terrorist attacks against the government and killed hundreds of innocent people not only in Pakistan but also in Afghanistan and other neighbouring countries. Most of the HuJI’s recruits are from Punjab, Karachi and Kashmir, he added.

Death is good news for Pakistan

“The killing of Osama Bin Laden and Ilyas Kashmiri is welcome and good (news) for the region,” said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain.

He said the terrorists have suffered significant damage recently and said that is why they are on the run now. “But security forces and the government will chase them until end,” Iftikar said, adding that those killing innocent people have no religion, nation or ideology.

“The blood of the martyred people will not go in vain,” Iftikhar said. “We will eliminate the already fleeing militants and will restore durable peace in the region.”

He urged upon the public to show unity as a nation to better fight the terrorists and eliminate their network.