Abdul Majid Dar, former operations commander of the Hizbul Mujahiddin, may have been assassinated by the Hizbul faction supporting supreme commander Syed Salahuddin.
Intelligence and military sources believe Sunday's killing is a consequence of the bitter battle for supremacy within Kashmir's biggest indigenous militant group.
Dar, who tacitly supported Mufti Mohammed Sayeed during the state assembly election, represented the dilemma of present day Kashmir. His death is a warning of the Kashmir valley's catastrophic future as foreign terrorists take over the separatist movement in the troubled northern state.
Disappointed with the Pakistan-backed strategy of ruthlessness, Dar and his supporters began to support peace initiatives in the last year. During last September's assembly election campaign Dar and his supporters were active in south Kashmir where Sayeed's People's Democratic Party won many seats.
Once a popular militant leader, he faced death threats after he unilaterally declared the July 24, 2000 cease-fire in Kashmir. The Hizbul withdrew the cease-fire, after initially being supported by Salahuddin, apparently at Pakistan's behest.
In April 2002, Dar and his senior commanders Zafar-ul-Fatah, Dr Assad Yazdani and Zubair were expelled from the Hizbul, and a new crop of commanders led by Saiful Islam installed.
Salahuddin recently expelled three other senior commanders -- Almaas, Nadeem and Tufail, who were based in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Dar's supporters.
The expulsions and the challenges created by 9/11 created a serious rift in the Hizbul's rank and file. After 9/11, many Kashmiri militants felt the world would have little tolerance for violence. But Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence had no alternative to violence to keep Kashmir in the international limelight.
According to sources, opposing Hizbul factions clashed at Haripur last November. Indian intelligence agencies believe Imtiaz, a senior commander, and Ibrahim, a Salahuddin aide, were injured in firing that day.
Last Eid Salahuddin skipped his customary address to Hizbul cadres in PoK and visited Saudi Arabia ostensibly to raise funds. Indian intelligence agencies claim Salahuddin kept away because he feared for his life.
There were two ways left for Dar -- to leave Kashmir and seek sanctuary in another country or to stay on in the valley until he found a niche in the state's political space like former militant leaders Shabbir Shah and Yasin Malik.
Dar wanted to join his second wife, a doctor from PoK who worked in the Gulf, and indicated as much when I met him a year or so ago.
Overtaken by the euphoria of Sayeed's election victory Dar was pursuing the second option of late. Sayeed was ready to accommodate militants like Dar to broaden the scope of the Jammu and Kashmir peace talks.
That may be the way forward if India wants to address the Kashmir crisis.
But two factors block Sayeed's attempts to bring people like Dar from the violent underground to the path of peace.
One, the foreign terrorists who fight for a pan-Islamic cause with no inkling of Kashmiriyat, and who at the behest of Pakistan and the International Islamic Front want to kill Dar and any Kashmiri leader seen to be supporting peace.
Two, the Centre's reluctance to accommodate attempts to involve people like Dar in the peace process.
Even as investigations begin, many in the Kashmir valley, including people who wanted Dar to be removed from the scene, may blame Indian security forces for his murder.