Targeting Kashmiri terrorists in Pakistan

Harsha Kakar
Pakistan news agencies confirmed the death of Syed Khalid Raza, former commander of the Pakistan-based terror outfit Al Badr outside his residence in Karachi recently. He was killed by a single bullet to the head, implying a planned assassination. The Sindhi nationalist group, Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA) has been reported to claim credit for his death, though not confirmed. The SRA, seeking independence of Sindh from Pakistan, is an ally of the Baloch militant alliance.
Pak media described Raza as a ‘renowned educationalist,’ as also vice chairman of the federation of private schools in Karachi.Raza had headed Al Badr, which was formed in 1998 by the ISI to participate in Jihad in Kashmir. It targeted security agencies and civilians, including women, claiming they did not follow the Islamic way of life.
In the third week of February, Bashir Ahmad Peer alias Imtiaz Alam of the Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) was shot dead by unidentified gunmen close to his residence in Rawalpindi, which is also the location of the Pak army HQ. He was the third in hierarchy of the outfit and responsible for despatching fresh recruits into Kashmir, identifying infiltration routes mainly in the Kupwara region, coordinating between terrorist groups as also providing logistics to terrorists. He was nicknamed the ‘launching chief.’
A government of India notification described him as being involved for ‘a number of online propaganda groups to unite ex-militants and other cadres for the furtherance of activities of the HM, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and others.’ Syed Salahuddin, HM’s leader attended Peer’s funeral at the Pakistani Army’s burial ground and as expected spoke against India. Peer had shifted from Kupwara to Pakistan in the early 1990’s. Pak media reported that Peer was killed by rival gang members over issues including funding.
The third terrorist assassinated in recent times is Ejaz Ahmad Ahanger, a Kashmir-born insurgent. Ahanger was notified as a terrorist by the Indian government in Jan this year. He was eliminated in Southern Afghanistan by the Taliban. A resident of Srinagar, Ejaz was the mastermind of the suicide attack on Kabul’s Gurdwara Kart-e Parwan in March 2020, which claimed 25 lives. A member of the Islamic State, Ejaz was arrested and jailed in Kabul for the suicide attack but escaped once the city fell to the Taliban.
In Jun 2021 there was a blast outside the residence of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of LeT. Saeed was reportedly in prison during that time. A number of nearby buildings were damaged. As per police reports three people were killed and fifteen injured in the attack. Pakistan intelligence claim that a police picket near Saeed’s residence was the target. Five individuals were arrested for the incident. In Dec 2022, a year and a half later, Pakistan blamed India for the attack in a dossier, an accusation which had no takers.
Targeting of known Kashmiri terrorists on Pak soil is a new phenomenon. Pakistan has always projected that it protects its terrorist assets thereby building a pro-Pakistan Kashmir lobby involving anti-India Kashmiris. The elimination of designated terrorists on their soil impacts the reputation of the ISI unless the greenlight for the killing was given by them. To add to insult, Peer was eliminated in the vicinity of army HQs in Rawalpindi.
Pakistan attempted to suppress the incidents as also protect the identity of slain terrorists, not that inputs were not available with Indian agencies, who announced their elimination soon after occurrence. The easiest way out for the ISI was to blame Indian RAW claiming it to be a covert operation. It could do so in the case of the Lahore blast as the target, Hafiz Saeed, was a known global terrorist. However, in other cases, accusing India would imply admitting it was harbouring known terrorists on its soil, hence its attempts at cover up.
There are other causes also, which Pak is loath to admit. Firstly, is the infighting between cadres, especially because funds and power are involved. Removing competition enables garnering a larger share of funds and greater control over operations. This was possibly the case with the elimination of Peer, who had assumed responsibility for training, launching and coordinating activities between terrorist groups, overriding many other members of the group. If Peer’s case is linked to fight for power within the LeT, there are bound to be other incidents in the future, which would benefit India.
The second reason for their killing is that once their utility ends, keeping them alive and protected is wasting scarce funds. Syed Raza, the leader of Al Badr, was of no utility to the ISI, which had nurtured and funded him, when he operated in Kashmir.Raza was no longer running Al Badr. The claim by the SRA is possibly a cover-up for an ISI ordered assassination. Raza’s manner of killing, a single shot to the head, from close range, implied execution, the ISI way. There was no official follow-up in investigation and an FIR was registered after days.
The elimination of Ejaz Ahmad Ahanger in Afghanistan is possibly the Taliban sending a message to India that it will target anti-India terrorists on its soil. Ahanger, being responsible for the suicide attack on the Gurdwara, was on the radar of Indian intelligence agencies. It is possibly also because Afghanistan hopes India will invest in projects in the country. The Indian budget for the current financial year has earmarked Rs 200 crore for Afghanistan. There are reports that both the LeT and HM have camps in Afghanistan. How will the Taliban act against these camps is to be seen.
Finally, if it was a covert operation conducted by Indian intelligence agencies then it goes to their credit. The killings would anyway have raised shackles in Pakistan’s security circles, forcing them to expend additional resources to ensure protection of their remaining assets, who are equally vulnerable. It would also signify that India has taken the battle beyond its shores deep into Pakistan, a fact Pakistan would be hesitant to admit. Whatever the reason behind their killing, all other designated terrorists would maintain a low profile, fearing UN designation or elimination. This is what India desires.
The author is Major General (Retd)