Hizbul Mujahideen: At the crossroads

In an attempt to resuscitate the stalled peace process in Kashmir, PM Atal Behari Vajpayee has announced the suspension of military offensive against the Kashmir militants during the month of Ramzan. With the Indian governmenrt having taken the initiative it now remains to be seen whether the militants will reciprocate. Akrita Reyar profiles the Hizbul Mujahideen, the militant group, that set the ball rolling with its aborted ceasefire call.

In an attempt to resuscitate the stalled peace process in Kashmir, PM Atal Behari Vajpayee has announced the suspension of military offensive against the Kashmir militants during the month of Ramzan. With the Indian governmenrt having taken the initiative it now remains to be seen whether the militants will reciprocate. Akrita Reyar profiles the Hizbul Mujahideen, the militant group, that set the ball rolling with its aborted ceasefire call. Genesis of terror Established in 1989 as the militant wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the group was christened Al Badr. Ideologically inclined towards Pakistan, the group’s foundation had its root in the long-term strategy of the ISI. Not only was it raised to spread militancy (or ostensibly to fight for the cause of freedom), it was also a chessboard move to counter the growing influence of the increasingly pro-independence, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). The HM’s formation, therefore, in a sense, marked the first ideological spilt in the militancy movement in the Valley. Its founding Commander-in-Chief, Master Ahsan Dar, a militant leader from Pattan, north Kashmir, renamed the group Hizbul Mujahideen. The recruitment drive that followed was a largely unchecked flux of JKLF cadre and youth picked up from villages by a group of trained guides. They were subsequently sent to Jhal and Dhani in PoK, where they received training from Afghan mujahideen groups like Hizb-e-Islami. The reign of terror In 1991, another pro-Pakistan group, the Tehreek-e-Jihad-e-Islami, led by Abdul Majid Dar merged with the HM. The group, by now, ready for attack, unleashed a reign of terror and spread its wings across the entire state. It wiped out several moderate Kashmiris and even launched attacks on JKLF in Muzzafarabad, PoK. By now the ground situation in J&K had considerably altered with the cropping up of several Pakistani and Afghani mercenary outfits. HM provided local knowledge to these pro-Pak groups in the Valley and also served as their guides. The group also developed a strong link with Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan routed through its sister group in India. The split Then came a split in the so far tightly-controlled organisation. One of the prominent commanders Nasir-ul-Islam revolted against Master Dar and launched his own HM. Islam was later killed in police custody in Srinagar. To ensure that no single leader became too powerful, the Jamaat decided to revamp the original HM. Late in 1991, Mohammed Yousuf Shah, popularly known as Syed Salahuddin or Pir Sahib, replaced Master Dar as the Commander-in-Chief. Salahuddin set a process of reform in motion and divided the organisation into two parts – the administrative and the military wing. Under the new arrangement the administrative wing controlled, completely, by Jamaat leaders enjoyed supremacy over the military wing. Another split Meanwhile, another terrorist outfit Allah Tigers also merged with the HM. But the merger was also accompanied by a split. The marganalised Master Ahsan Dar decided to part ways. He launched the Muslim Mujahideen in Anantnag but was kidnapped soon after by the HM in May 1992. The cadre of his outfit could not hold together in his absence and by the time he was released, most men had either shifted to other organisations or joined counter-insurgency forces. Dar was arrested by security forces in 1993 and is still in custody. By the mid-90s foreign militants started joining the ranks of the HM. They were unwilling to work under the local leadership and in 1998 a new group called Al Badr had to be formed. This comprised only foreign mercenaries and completely severed links with its parent outfit. HM also started a women’s wing called Binat ul-Islam and is headed by Umi Arifa. The HM, through the years, launched several successful terrorist campaigns. It set on fire the revered Kashmiri shrine, Charar-e-Sharif in 1995, carried out joint operations with Lashkar-e-Toiba in Wandhama and Chittisingpora in 1997, attacked army camps in Nathnusha, Kupwara in 1999 in tandem with Harkat-ul-Ansar and and is responsible for the blast in Tral that killed 11 policemen in Feb 2000. However, disenchanted by the long years of warfare that failed to yield results and marginalised by the ISI that turned its attention towards the newly-formed Jaish-e-Mohammed, HM has begun to wear out. Several of its prominent commanders have also been killed in the intensive counter-insurgency operations of the security forces. Most importantly, the group finds the reins of the movement slipping out of its hands into that of the foreign mercenaries.

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