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With or without him

Ilyas Kashmiri’s death may not affect the Pakistan army’s plans.

Written by Ayesha Siddiqa |
June 7, 2011 2:01:17 am

On June 4,Pakistani sources announced the death of one of the most deadly terrorists in the region,Ilyas Kashmiri of the 313 Brigade of the Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI). He was accused of numerous terrorist attacks,including the Mumbai attacks and the recent one at PNS Mehran,Karachi,and the assassination of Major General Faisal Alavi. Many in the South Asian region would want to see him dead. But the question is: is he really dead? And,more important,would the situation in the tribal areas change due to his death?

Despite Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s vociferous assurance on Kashmiri’s death,there are many who find it implausible simply because of the manner in which the 313 Brigade announced it. Informed observers are still doubtful about what is being claimed. In this case,there is a possibility that he may surface at some future date,possibly after doing some damage. After all,there was news of his death in a drone attack almost a year ago,which he was quick to contradict.

But even if he is actually dead,the real question is,would this have an effect on the security conditions in the tribal areas and Pakistan? There is much more happening in Waziristan than the 313 Brigade. Ilyas Kashmiri,allegedly,was one of the unfriendly jihadis to attack the Pakistani state. He had developed some friction with the agencies after he was picked up and tortured for his supposed involvement in one of the assassination attempts on General Pervez Musharraf. However,as the late journalist Saleem Shahzad had claimed,Kashmiri had mended some fences with the Pakistani authorities and was willing to attend to what was considered the Indian threat.

North Waziristan,at the moment,is infested with all kinds of friendly and unfriendly jihadi elements. While the unfriendly ones include Maulana Fazlullah,the friendly ones include Sirajuddin Haqqani and his network. Recently,on June 2,Fazlullah’s forces had attacked Dir,killing more than 60 people including those from the security forces. But the army denied the news. Later,a counter-attack against the Taliban was claimed,which many in the area doubt.

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More critical is the Haqqani network as it has clout in the area,which is one of the reasons for the Pakistani military wanting to forge relations with it. There seems to be continued support for the network despite recent claims that the army will launch an operation in North Waziristan. Many observers see in this the US pressure finally working on Pakistan. However,the claim was soon to be refuted by the Corps Commander,Peshawar,which means that the military seems to be reacting to public opinion in its urban centres,which is against such an operation. It is not certain as to how genuine this public pressure is,since a lot of it seems to be stage-managed through Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). Khan is believed to be close to General (retd) Hameed Gul and similar people who support Taliban operations against the US under the pretext of safeguarding national sovereignty.

The military,as it is obvious from the writings of some former military personnel such as Brigadier (retd) Shaukat Qadir,is not keen to launch an operation. They see Siraj Haqqani as a friendly force who has held back Hakeemullah Mehsud from attacking Pakistan and providing space to the armed forces when they launched an operation in South Waziristan. The cooperation between the Haqqani network and the army is most obvious to the local people in the region,including those from Parachinar. Reportedly,the dead bodies of members of the Haqqani network and seven other Taliban were instantly taken away by security forces after they died in a fight with the local Turi tribesmen who are Shias. There is great fear amongst many people in the area,especially the Parachinaris,who have been under siege for the last four years with little hope of help from the security forces.

Neither the Parachinaris nor a lot of other people expect that there will be a major operation in North Waziristan. A responsible member of the government claimed that there was little hope of a meaningful operation against the Taliban or jihadis in the region. This means the area will continue to play host to numerous forces that,when combined,can have a devastating effect on peace and stability in the region. It is quite clear that there will be no change to the script,which means Ilyas Kashmiri’s death may not even count as a significant milestone in the war on terror. What it is that will change the mind of the Pakistan army is a million-dollar question to which no one has an answer yet.

The writer is an Islamabad-based defence analyst

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