The impact of the killing of Pakistani militant/terrorist Ilyas Kashmiri by a US Predator drone strike paid far more dividend than the killing of Osama bin Laden. Of course, the symbolism of killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan remains symbolically more significant. Regardless, the direct impact resulting in communication disruption and rooting out the poisons within the Pakistani military and intelligence circle are only just beginning. The killing of Kashmiri dealt an incredible blow to Al Qaeda, as well as a host of other terrorist groups located in Pakistani Administered Kashmir and the tribal areas. The recent arrest of Pakistani Brigadier General Ali Khan, and the interrogation of four other Generals had far less of a connection to bin Laden’s phone, than to Kashmiri and the terrorist network who enjoyed 30 years of financial, military and tactical support from the military and ISI.
Until his death earlier this month, Kashmiri was well known primarily in South Asia, especially India and Pakistan. Kashmiri hailed from Pakistani Administered Kashmir, and had a long history of working intimately with what later became Al Qaeda during the 1980’s in Afghanistan as a member of the Special Forces in the Pakistani military. Once the Soviets were repelled from Afghanistan, Kashmiri went back to Kashmir and began waging jihad against the Indian Military in what he viewed as a “liberation movement” for the Kashmiri people from Indian Rule. It is this connection that spans over three decades that is the biggest blow to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and may in fact be the tipping point for both the US in Afghanistan, as well as Indian and Pakistani relations.
Kashmiri during the 80’s and early 90’s was the logistical master of shuffling young fighters to training camps in both Pakistan and Afghanistan for “on the job training” against the Russians, and to be played out on the battlefield against India. The importance was he not only was able to transport young fighters for training against India, he established the connections and links necessary with villages and tribesman in the mountainous regions ensuring safe passage. This network continues today, but with the killing of Kashmiri, his network appears already in free fall in Pakistan, which will have a greater impact in Afghanistan as movements become of greater challenge through the tribal areas. The people who provided aid and comfort did so primarily to their relationship with Kashmiri, and not just tacit support for a militant movement.
The connection between bin Laden’s ability to hide in Abbottabad under the nose of retired military and intelligence officers was of no coincidence. Kashmiri had the connections and ability to call in favors knowing that questions would never be asked. Kashmiri was instrumental in the Mumbai attacks, which gained him great favor within the establishment community. Despite the Pakistani militaries fighting with the Taliban, everyone knows that the real danger in the mind of the military and intel community is India.
However, just this past week Indian officials paid Pakistan a visit in what was viewed as a precursor to renewed talks between the leaders of the two sub-continent rivals. I asked both former Pakistani, Indian and Kashmiri officials if they thought the death of Ilyas Kashmiri would have a direct impact on relations between India and Pakistan, and most of them just said “of course.” One former Pakistani official took things one step further and said, “not only could this lead a major breakthrough for Indian and Pakistani relations, but the death of Kashmiri will turn the tides once and for all for the Americans in Afghanistan.”
There is no question the recent decision by US President Barack Obama to reduce troops in Afghanistan was directly impacted by this high level target. Of course, the US Generals wanted to keep more boots on the ground. However, we must remember that Generals think in terms for what is happening today. The Taliban’s continued ability to engage and fight with the same passion and fury as they always have. What US Intelligence officials in the region feel, is that there will be a decrease in numbers, and far less traffic along the boarder regions. The Pakistani military will be much more alert and assertive when encountering militants attempting to move along the region. On the flip side of that coin, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are becoming much more reluctant to travel through the region to various safe havens because they are being taken away one by one.
In the end, the death of Ilyas Kashmiri will go down as one of the biggest victories, as well as the possible trigger to India and Pakistan finally resolving their 70-year-old differences. With arrests within the Pakistani intelligence and military community sure to come, militant activity on the Indian border. Additionally, this will open the door for India to finally begin removing her 500-700,000 military troops occupying Indian Administered Kashmir, especially in urban areas. Finally, al Qaeda and the Taliban lost their regional broker who provided safe passage and support from top ranking military and intelligence officials. I am sure that numbers in Osama bin Laden’s phone helped a bit in being able to find out who knew, and how high up the power chain knowledge of his whereabouts went. However, in just three weeks since that US drone strike in early June, already the death of Ilyas Kashmiri vastly exceeds the death of Osama bin Laden.