Al Qaeda’s chief has called on jihadists in Kashmir to launch unrelenting blows against India as he also attacked Pakistan’s army, saying it could not be trusted to liberate the territory.
Ayman al-Zawahiri used a video statement to call militants to wage attacks “to bleed the Indian economy and make India suffer sustained losses in manpower and equipment”.
The statement was an attempt by the group to stake a claim to Islamist jihad in South Asia after competition from Islamic State and other groups, analysts suggested.
Militant groups have fought troops in Indian-administered Kashmir for decades, but violence has increased in recent years as Delhi has waged a heavy-handed crackdown against protestors.
A car bombing in Pulwama claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) group killed around 40 paramilitary police in February, bringing Delhi and Islamabad close to war. Both sides claim the disputed territory in whole, and Pakistan’s military has long been accused of sponsoring and supporting groups such as JeM to attack Indian troops.
But in an outspoken attack on the Pakistani military Zawahiri said a history of “failures, defeats, corruption and treachery” showed they could not be trusted to free Kashmir.
Pakistan has faced renewed international pressure to turn on its proxies after the stand-off with India.
Raffaello Pantucci, an international terrorism expert at the Royal United Services Institute think tank, said the video could be a reaction to Islamic State group’s expansion into South Asia. The group is thought to have inspired the bombers behind the Sri Lanka Easter Sunday attacks that killed more than 250.
He said: “If you look at the indicators of what is happening in South Asia, it is all quite negative. Isis is announcing groups in Pakistan and India. I think there’s some degree to which al-Qaeda are trying to stick their oar in.”
Pakistan’s military faced accusations of harbouring al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, after he was found hiding in Abbottabad in 2011.
Mr Pantucci said: “I think the Pakistani’s are certainly clamping down a bit. Al-Qaeda has usually been one they don’t mind clamping down on, as it is less strategic a tool than some of the other domestic ones.”