The Al Qaeda's leadership has a habit of appointing men affiliated to Kashmiri militant groups in positions of leadership, says Amir Mir
The recent appointment of Farman Ali Shinwari as the new 'chief operational commander' of the Al Qaeda's Pakistan unit indicates that the deadly terrorist outfit intends to extend its operations to India.
Shinwari is a former member of the Harkat-ul Mujahideen and Harkat-ul Jehadul Islami. He was considered close to Maulana Fazalur Rehman Khalil and Ilyas Kashmiri, the commanders of HuM and HuJI respectively. Both these jihadi organisations had been actively waging a jihad in Kashmir for years before joining hands with Qaeda.
Shinwari, 30, hails from Landikotal area of the Khyber Agency, one of the seven tribal agencies located in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Shinwari's appointment was announced by the Al Qaeda's daawa (propagation) and media department, which is led by Ustad Ahmad Farooq.
According to the statement, Shinwari was approved as the leader after consultations among the Al Qaeda's top leadership and ratification by its commanders in Pakistan. The Shinwaris are among the most important militant families in the Khyber Agency. The Al Qaeda is believed to have chosen him because he is a native of Khyber Agency who is familiar with FATA and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's supply routes.
He is capable of supporting the Pakistani Taliban to assert control over Khyber Agency and continue disrupting the NATO supply lines that pass through the area into Afghanistan. The Khyber Pass is the transit point for as much as 70 per cent of the supplies that sustain the NATO alliance in its battle against the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
According to well-informed sources in the Pakistani security establishment, Shinwari was appointed the chief operational commander of the Al Qaeda in Pakistan after the death of commander Badar Mansoor, chief of the terror outfit's Pakistan unit, in a drone strike.
Shinwari was considered close to Mansoor, a key Al Qaeda figure, who had replaced Ilyas Kashmiri following his death in an American drone attack in June 2011. Shinwari is believed to have been trained in the Miramshah area of North Waziristan, where Badr had set up his own training camp.
Mansoor was originally a member of the Harkat-ul Mujahideen, led by Maulana Fazalur Rehman Khalil, the jihadi lynchpin from Pakistan who was close to Osama.
Believed to be a member of Osama's International Islamic Front for 'Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jewish People' and a co-signatory of Laden's first fatwa issued in 1998, calling for attacks against the United States, Khalil was in an Al Qaeda training camp when it was hit by US cruise missiles in August 1998.
Despite having parted way with Maulana Khalil several years ago, Mansoor had been using his ties to the Harkat-ul Mujahideen and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan to recruit personnel from their ranks, train them, and induct them into the Al Qaeda.
Well-informed sources in the Pakistani establishment say the decision of top Al Qaeda leadership to appoint Shinwari as Badr Mansoor's replacement is consistent with the practice of the international terrorist outfit of appointing men affiliated to Kashmiri militant groups in positions of leadership, like Ilyas Kashmiri and Mansoor himself.
Because of his closeness to Mansoor, Shinwari is believed to share a similar rapport with the Harkat-ul Mujahideen, Harkat-ul Jehadul Islami and the Tehrik-e-Taliban. In fact, four of Shinwari's brothers are members of these three jihadi groups. His elder brother Nabi Shinwari alias Tamanchy Mulla, reportedly a key leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in Waziristan, used to send militants to Kashmir and Afghanistan while he was a member of Harkat-ul Mujahideen.
Three other brothers of Shinwari -- Rehmatullah, Matiullah and Raziullah -- were actively involved with militancy in Kashmir during the period of violent insurgency the state witnessed in the 1990s.
In his first statement posted by an Al Qaeda-linked jihadi website after his appointment, Shinwari, who is educated and internet-savvy, assured his full support to the militants in Kashmir. He also stated that in case of a war in the 'occupied valley', he would fight against India's security forces.
Analysts believe Shinwari's native location, his grooming in radical ideology, his intimate knowledge of the geography and politics of FATA and his deep-rooted ties with some key jihadi groups that are active in India made him the most suitable candidate for the top post.
In 2008, when Pakistani security forces initiated a military operation to root out Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants in Shinwari's home town of Landikotal, his family members had to escape to Waziristan. Security forces later demolished his family house in Khugakhel village and arrested several members of his extended family.
Retribution for this incident will be on Shinwari's mind, say experts, as he takes over his new role.