Hizbul Mujahideen: a cross-border proxy actor that has prolonged the Kashmir conflict?
In Kashmir, one terrorist organisation that has frequently come into friction with Indian security forces since 1989 is Hizbul Mujahideen (HM).
Logo of Hizbul Mujahideen.
Some of the recent noticeable activities of HM in the past few months are:
8 March - three HM militants hailing from Jammu division were arrested in Srinagar.16 March - Enforcement Directorate filed a complaint against 2 HM operatives under Prevention of Money Laundering Act. 27 March - HM cell was arrested by police in Kulgam district; which led to a further six being arrested and arms and ammunition recovered. In April, intelligence suggested that HM has joined with Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Jaish-e Mohammad to wage 'United Jihad' in Kashmir.5 May - Three Over Ground Workers (OGWs) of HM were arrested in Shopian.17 May - HM terrorists were involved in the killing of young army officer in Shopian district of Kashmir. 12 May - HM warns Hurriyat leaders that they will chop off their heads and hang them in Lal Chowk, Srinagar.26 May - Burhan Waniâs successor Sabzar Bhat was gunned down in Tral by security forces and a huge haul of arms and ammunition was recovered from the site where Bhat was killed. Although, security forces have had some success in targeting HM militants from the 2015 cadre and in controlling the activities of HM; the group still has considerable grip on Kashmir and recently released a new photo of the 2017 cadre of militants.
Click on above image to expand.
HM is one of the largest pro-Pakistan unification ideology terrorist outfits operating in the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). It is proscribed under Indiaâs Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002. It has been designated as a terrorist organisation by India, the European Union, and the United States. Its cadres are drawn from indigenous and foreign sources that make it highly effective in perpetrating violence across the state.
Latest batch HM terrorists in Muzaffarabad. Image: News18
HM was founded by Ahsan Dar in 1989. It was formed as a militant wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist organisation in Pakistan. However, there are reports that allege Jamaat-e-Islami set up HM at the behest of Pakistanâs Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to counter the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), that was advocating complete independence of J&K rather than integration with Pakistan. HM supports the liberation of Kashmir and its accession to Pakistan. HM also campaigned for the Islamisation of Kashmir, which was further witnessed in one of the HM commanders, Zakir Musaâs provocation to Kashmiri youth to pelt stones in the name of Islam; and not in the name of nationalism. In the mid-1990s HM operated in Afghanistan and trained alongside the Afghan Hizb-I-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) until the Taliban takeover.
HM is currently led by Syed Salahuddin (Mohammad Yusuf Shah) the supreme commander. Its headquarters is reported to be based in Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). The estimated cadre strength of the HM is around 1500 in Kashmir. However, a report suggests that its cadre strength in 1990 on the both side of Line of Control (LOC) was above 10,000. In the Kashmir Valley, its chief commander of operations is Ghazi Nasiruddin and the group is divided into five divisions across the state. It has been alleged that Pakistanâs Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has provided training and funding to HM.
Hizbul Mujahideen uses standard tactics of coercion and targeted killings in order to purge pro-independent activists and leaders. It has adopted an aggressive approach from the outset with communal postures to shield its activities. HM is responsible for an estimated 65% of violence in J&K. It has its own news agency, Kashmir Press International, Rawalpindi.
Group photo of previous cadre of HM surfaced in 2015, Image: IndiaToday
In 1989, JKLF was the most prominent militant organisation advocating for the independence of Kashmir and attracted thousands of Kashmiri for the armed struggle. However, a shift was observed after Hizbul Mujahideen become active in Kashmir and advocated for the merger of Kashmir with Pakistan by completely side-lining the JKLF and other pro-independence groups. The side-lining of the JKLF was reportedly achieved with the support and orchestration from the Pakistani Army. Similar to how predecessor General Zia ul Haq had favoured pro-Pakistan Islamist groups in Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army successors had resurrected an Islamist terrorist outfit for Kashmir by having allegiance with ISI that can be kept at armâs length but can be reportedly be controlled from Islamabad. Reportedly, HM have purged some of the 7,000 political rivals and had eliminated more JKLF members than security forces. HM have also targeted other organisations such as the Muslim Janbaaz Force and killed some 120 of its members.
Some of the past notable high profile assassinations carried out by HM include NC-F leaders who were hung to death on March 23, 1990. The killing of the much-revered spiritual leader of the Muslims of Kashmir and father of Hurriyat Conference chairman, Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq on May 21, 1990 was also blamed on HM and a rocket attack on the home of Haji Mohammad Abdullah on July 17, 1994. HM were also alleged to have convinced a larger section of Kashmiri populous that New Delhi was complicit in purging prominent Kashmiri leaders that accelerated civilian anger towards security forces. However, according to sources it later emerged that it was the actions of HM. HM is also alleged to have set fires in Srinagar that led to 200 shops, 50 house, 10 hotels burning down on April 10, 1993. HM were also held responsible for setting fire to the memorial of Charar-e-Sharif on May 11, 1995. Further, HM is likely responsible for many of the unsolved disappearances in Kashmir since 1990. In July 2016, Burhan Wani a popular commander of HM in Kashmir was killed in an encounter with security forces. Rather than state government capitalising on this success, proxy used social media to organise widespread violent protests in the Valley. Thus, strategically HM has remained successful in promoting anti-Indian sentiment in the Kashmir Valley.
In 1990, when HM faced difficulties on recruiting a Kashmiri cadre, Pakistanâs connection with Gulbuddin Hekmatyarâs Hizb-e-Islami came in handy and that pushed Afghan and Pakistani terrorists from Jalalabad into Kashmir with the battle cry âà¤¹à¤® à¤à¤¶à¤¨à¥ à¤à¤¾à¤¬à¥à¤² à¤®à¤¨à¤¾ à¤à¥à¤à¥ à¤ à¤¬ à¤à¤²à¥ à¤à¤¶à¥à¤®à¥à¤° à¤à¤²à¥à¤â [we have celebrated victory in Kabul, letâs go to Kashmir now].
Besides close association with the Pakistanâs Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the United Jihad Council, HM also has alleged close links with Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan and in the Kashmir Valley. Whilst, Jamaat leadership claims that the organisation is not connected with terrorism; however, evidence suggests the opposite. Moreover, it also has an overseas connection with Kashmir American Council and World Kashmir Freedom Movement in the USA. Whilst in India, another proscribed outfit, Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) is also believed to have links with HM. In 1990, the HM leadership established links with Sikh extremist groups in Punjab such as Bhindranwale Tiger Force of Khalistan.
It is claimed that HM on average spends 4.5 million Rupees every month to maintain its cadre and it is alleged the major source of its finances has been the ISI. Overseas funds are reportedly dispatched in the disguise of a charity donation through Islamic organisations. In Canada, during a revenue agency audit it was revealed that an Islamic charity shipped more than $280,000 to a Pakistan-based agency, which the government fears went to support HM. It has been reported, although unproven, that HM receives nearly 1 crore rupees from the ISI and the HM is the biggest beneficiary of the funds given by ISI. Alongside others, ISI is also alleged by various sources of promoting Masood Azharâs terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad, who was freed from prison in India in exchange for passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 in Nepal, that force landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, then controlled by Taliban in 1999.
Hizbul Mujahideen chief Sayeed Salahudeen spotted in Pak Occupied Kashmir with a terror cadre.
It can be assessed that one of the main reasons that has kept the Kashmir troubles alive for so many decades is the external interference through proxy actors. As a reportedly Pakistani-sponsored proxy actor in Kashmir, HM has helped Pakistan to keep the Kashmir trouble-pot on the boil since 1989. Pakistani interference in J&K is to promote insurgency and to escalate anti-Indian sentiment mainly for three reasons.
Firstly, I assess this gives the Pakistani Army a purpose and in perpetuating a war like a scenario, creating fear of India over its own citizens. By doing this the Pakistan Army establishment maintains control over Pakistan and by making political leadership weaker for bilateral engagement between two countries even more challenging and impossible.
Second, to counter Indiaâs growing influence in Afghanistan and in the region.
Third, it is the desire of taking revenge on India, specifically for Indiaâs role in the 1971 Liberation War that has shaped the independence of the Peopleâs Republic of Bangladesh from then East Pakistan.
In all of this, Kashmiris are used as a fodder by Pakistan to fulfil its own strategic ambitions by undermining centuries-old indigenous secularism - âKashmiriyatâ that is unique and deeply rooted in Kashmiri culture and associated with J&K of India.
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