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Ilyas Kashmiri may be alive after all. Here's why

July 16, 2011 18:06 IST

Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami and Al Qaeda's 313 Brigade, is reportedly alive in spite of being declared killed in an American drone strike on June 3 in South Waziristan.

The 'death' of Kashmiri was a source of relief for the United States, Pakistan, India and many other nations across the world. But security officials of the United States and Pakistan have failed to confirm reports of Kashmiri's death and he is reportedly still active along the border with Afghanistan.

Kashmiri is a leading Al Qaeda commander who was considered a potential successor to Osama bin Laden, who was killed by US Special Forces on May 1.

The United Sates has recently set a deadline for Pakistan to start a military operation and arrest five most wanted terrorists including Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, Ilyas Kashmiri, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Atia Abdur Rehman.

Pakistan, under tremendous pressure from the US, had breathed a sigh of relief after reports of Kashmiri's death emerged. But this period of relief was short lived.

"I can confirm 100 percent that he is dead," Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik had told the media after reports of Kashmiri's death surafaced. Incidentally, the interior minister had earlier proclaimed that Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Hakimullah Mehsud had died in a drone strike. It was later revealed that Mehsud was very much alive and actively leading the deadly TTP.

In spite of Rehman's assertions, some major questions had remained unanswered about Kashmiri's reported death.

1) Kashmiri was reportedly killed in a drone attack but no one in the area has independently confirmed the killing. There was no solid evidence about Kashmiri being among the Taliban leaders killed in the drone strike and no one had seen his dead body.

Kashmiri's brother Choudhry Asghar had said, "We have not seen his body and unless we get some evidence, we can't accept he is dead. We want solid proof."

2) The 313 Brigade had immediately sent a letter to the media confirming the killing of Kashmiri.

The letter read, "On behalf of Harkat Jihad al-Islami 313 Brigade, we confirm the fact that our leader and commander-in-chief Mohammad Ilyas Kashmiri, along with other companions, has been martyred in an American drone attack at 11:15 pm on June 3, 2011 and America will see our full revenge very soon. Our only target is America: spokesperson Abu Hanzala."
Why did the 313 Brigade need to confirm the killing of Ilyas Kashmiri?

In the history of militancy in Pakistan, no militant group has ever confirmed the killing of its leader until the media received some video or solid proof about his death.

In the letter, the group also threatened to target the US but there was no mention of Pakistan. The 313-Brigade has always considered Pakistan a worse enemy than the US.

3) The 313 Brigade also released a photograph purportedly of Ilyas Kashmiri after his death. But the photograph showed a clean-shaven man while Kashmiri was bearded. According to some media reports, it was a picture of Abu Dera Ismail Khan, one of the attackers who targeted Mumbai in 2008.

This clearly shows that some forces were trying to make the world believe that Ilyas Kashmiri was dead.

4) Ilyas Kashmiri was reportedly killed in Wana in South Waziristan which is a stronghold of Mullah Nazir, a 'good Taliban' who has cordial ties with Pakistani authorities.

Mullah Nazir never allowed 'bad Taliban' like members of the TTP, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Lashkari Jhangvi or 313 Brigade to enter his area.

In early 2007, he ousted Uzbek ultras, who were against Pakistan, from the area. How a 'bad Taliban' like Ilyas Kashmiri managed to enter the area controlled by Mullah Nazir remains a pertinent question.

Tahir Ali In Islamabad