Of the terrorist outfits currently operating in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) is the one of the largest, with a cadre base drawn from indigenous and foreign sources. It is one of the most important terrorist outfits in terms of its effectiveness in perpetrating violence across the State at regular intervals. The HM is one of the 32 outfits proscribed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002.
Formation and Objectives
The HM came into being in the Kashmir Valley in September 1989 with Master Ahsan Dar as its chief. Dar was later arrested by security forces in mid-December 1993. It was reportedly formed as the militant wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), an Islamist organisation. The Jamaat-e-Islami is reported to have set up the Hizb at the behest of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, to counter the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which had advocated complete independence of the State. Many of the early Hizb cadres were former JKLF members.
In June 1990, the HM ‘Constitution’ was approved and Mohammed Yusuf Shah, popularly known as Syed Salahuddin, was appointed Patron and Hilal Ahmed Mir as Amir (chief). Apparently, differences between JeI elements and the non-JeI faction started developing within the HM which led to a split with one faction being led by Salahuddin whereas the other was led by Hilal Ahmed Mir (killed in 1993).
The Hizb-ul-Mujahideen stands for the integration of J&K with Pakistan. Since its inception, the HM has also campaigned for the Islamisation of Kashmir.
Leadership, Command Structure and Areas of Operation
Headquartered at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen with an estimated cadre strength of at least 1500, is presently headed by Syed Salahuddin. The patron of HM in PoK is Ghulam Nabi Nausheri.
Ghazi Nasiruddin is the outfit’s ‘chief commander of operations' in the Kashmir Valley. He succeeded Saif-ul-Islam alias Ghulam Rasool Khan alias 'Engineer' Zaman, who was killed in a major counter-insurgency operation on April 2, 2003, at Nowgam Chowk, on the outskirts of capital Srinagar. Saleem Hashmi is the spokesperson of the outfit.
Currently, the HM is organised into five divisions: central division for Srinagar, northern division for Kupwara-Bandipora-Baramulla, southern division for Anantnag and Pulwama districts, Chenab division for Doda district and Gool in the Udhampur district, and Pir Panjal Division for the Rajouri and Poonch districts.
The HM has its own news agency, Kashmir Press International, and a women's wing, Banat-ul-Islam.
The Hizb reportedly has a substantial support base in the Kashmir Valley and in the Doda, Rajouri, Poonch districts and parts of Udhampur district in the Jammu region.
The HM came into the spotlight when it’s Salar-e-Ala or ‘chief commander’, Abdul Majeed Dar, made a conditional offer of cease-fire to the Indian Government at a press conference in Srinagar on July 24, 2000. The endorsement of this offer by the group's supremo Syed Salahuddin followed in an Islamabad press conference on July 25. On August 3, 2000, a high-level official team of the Government of India visited Srinagar and conducted a meeting with Dar and his associates at the Nehru Guest House. However, on August 8, 2000, Syed Salahuddin 'withdrew' the cease-fire at a press conference in Islamabad, reportedly under pressure from the other terrorist groups and their handlers in Pakistan.
On March 23, 2003, Majeed Dar was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the Noor Bagh area of Sopore Township in north Kashmir when two gun-wielding youth barged into his ancestral house and fired indiscriminately. Two terrorist groups claimed responsibility for Dar's killing: the hitherto little-known, 'Save Kashmir Movement', believed to be a front of the Al Umar Mujahideen, while claiming responsibility, labeled Dar as "an informant of Indian agencies" and "an enemy of the Kashmiri people." Separately, a person describing himself as the spokesperson of Al Nasireen, another obscure group, in a message to a local news agency, said that activists of his group killed Dar for his 'anti-movement activities'. Meanwhile, another person claiming to be a spokesperson for the HM called up the news agency and condemned Dar's killing. Dar had been a front ranking terrorist in the HM before his 'expulsion' in May 2002. In his capacity as 'deputy supreme commander', 'Military adviser' and 'chief commander of operations', Dar played a significant role in the indoctrination, recruitment, launching and training of Hizb cadres. Reports suggest that, while managing the Hizb training camps in Pakistan, he was the only Kashmiri terrorist who had direct access to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief as also General Pervez Musharraf.
Dar's killing is the culmination of an almost three-year old battle for supremacy being waged by his followers against the faction led by Syed Salahuddin, the HM 'supreme commander' and chief of the 14-member United Jehad Council (UJC), a conglomerate of Pakistan-based terrorist organisations. The Dar initiated 'peace talks' led to dissent within the Hizb, with the Pakistani ranks fearing that an effective process of negotiations may actually be established, to the detriment of Pakistani interests. Subsequently, a war for supremacy ensued within the HM, and a distinctive 'bimodal' operating structure emerged, with separate factions owing allegiance to Dar and Salahuddin. Since the ill-fated peace talks, followers of Salahuddin - who operates from Pakistan - and Majeed Dar, who remained 'underground' in the Kashmir Valley, had a series of internecine clashes. In November 2002, two Salahuddin loyalists were killed in factional conflict reported at the Mirpur and Tarbela camps in PoK. The Hizb leadership in Pakistan has also issued statements claiming Dar's alleged alignment with Indian intelligence agencies. Reports suggest that Dar had been disillusioned with the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and its military leadership. Dar was 'suspended' by the Salahuddin faction and replaced by Saiful Islam as the Hizb 'chief commander of operations' in Kashmir, on May 4, 2002. Two of his close associates, Assad Yazdani and Zaffar Abdul Fatah, were also 'removed' from positions of command. Again, on May 9, 2002, the Hizb leadership expelled another two 'divisional commanders' in south Kashmir. Even as Dar and his associates were accused of assisting Indian security forces, many of his loyalists were killed by cadres of the Salahuddin group. Faced with Dar's rising popularity within the HM ranks, Salahuddin and the ISI had, in the recent months before the former’s death, initiated several moves to marginalize and target Dar and his associates in the terrorist ensemble.
The Salahuddin faction is also widely believed to have carried out the January 31, 2003, killing of the editor of News and Feature Alliance (NAFA), Parvaz Mohammad Sultan, in Srinagar. NAFA had been prominently reporting on the internal feud in the HM for the preceding two weeks prior to Sultan's killing. The NAFA reports had mentioned that the Valley-based faction led by Dar had 'overthrown' the Salahuddin faction. Within hours of Majeed Dar's murder clashes broke out at HM camps in PoK between the slain leader's followers and the faction led by Salahuddin. Violent confrontations are believed to have taken place at camps in Kotli, Mirpur, Oggi, Jungal-Mangal, Haripur and Gadhi-Dupatta. Reports have indicated that Salahuddin was fidgety over the prospect of an imminent test of strength in the camps.
In a major counter-insurgency operation on April 2, 2003, HM 'chief commander of operations', Saif-ul-Islam was killed at Nowgam Chowk, on the outskirts of Srinagar. Within a span of 10 days, two front ranking cadres of the HM had been liquidated. An emergency meeting of the 'command council' of the HM in Muzaffarabad named Ghazi Nasiruddin as the new chief for Kashmir, to succeed Saif-ul-Islam, on April 3. However, sources indicate that a process of churning is underway within the HM and its guardians in Pakistan. The HM has for long been regarded as having a considerable number of Kashmiris in its ranks. However, the relative dominance of foreign cadres within the HM has, in the past, progressively impaired the operational capacity of the group. Strained relations between local and foreign cadres have, at times, culminated in violent clashes in some places. Prior to his elevation as the 'chief commander', next only to chief Syed Salahuddin, Saif-ul-Islam had functioned as a 'divisional commander' in south Kashmir for seven years. When Salahuddin removed Abdul Majeed Dar and some 'divisional commanders' loyal to him in January 2002, Saif-ul-Islam was installed as 'chief commander of operations'. Dar had fallen out of favour with Salahuddin and the ISI ever since he announced an ill-fated cease-fire in July 2000.
Media reports have indicated that, two months prior to his death, Pakistani intelligence officials had been urging Majeed Dar to return to Pakistan. Although the Salahuddin-led faction was hostile to Dar, the ISI was keen on a rapprochement. More important, Dar believed that American pressure on Pakistan to move forward with the dialogue process would ensure his safety. But, subsequent events have proved otherwise and the recent killings have led to a split in the HM, with followers of the slain Dar saying that they were parting ways with 'supreme commander' Salahuddin. "We have launched our own faction of Hizbul Mujahideen," Tufail Ahmed, a former 'operational chief' of the Hizb, and Dar supporter said in a March 27, 2003, report. Ahmed is the younger brother of Zafar Abdul Fateh, who was expelled along with Majeed Dar by Salahuddin in May 2002. He claimed that commanders of the new faction on both sides of the border had 'unanimously' appointed Ahmed Yasin as their 'chief commander'. "Around 40 per cent of the Hizb activists are with us," claimed Ahmed.
The two Hizb factions have often blamed each other for the arrest and deaths of their leaders in J&K. Seven Hizb 'chief operational commanders' have been killed in J&K since 1989, according to the Daily Times. They include Ahsan Dar, Ashraf Dar, Maqbool Allai, Commander Baangro, Naseerul Islam, Masood Nantary, and Abdul Majeed Dar. Barring Majeed Dar, all these 'commanders' were killed in encounters with the Indian security forces. Saif-ul-Islam's name now also belongs to this list. At least two of these 'commanders' were reportedly killed after they formed splinter Hizb factions.
The HM is closely linked to the Jamaat-e-Islami, both in the Kashmir Valley and in Pakistan. Overseas, it is allegedly backed by Ghulam Nabi Fai's Kashmir American Council and Ayub Thakur's World Kashmir Freedom Movement in the USA. Early in its history, the Hizb had established contacts with Afghan Mujahideen groups such as Hizb-e-Islami, under which some of its cadre is alleged to have received arms training.
The HM is reported to have a close association with the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence and the United Jehad Council, and other terrorist organizations operating out of Pakistan. Hizb chief Syed Salahuddin also heads the UJC.
The proscribed Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) is also believed to have links with the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen.Incidents involving Hizb-ul-Mujahideen