Of all the terrorist outfits operating in the State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the Hizb-ul Mujahideen is the largest, with a cadre base drawn from indigenous and foreign sources. While it is one of the most important terrorist outfit's in terms of its effectiveness in perpetrating violence all over the State at regular intervals, the exact estimate of its effectiveness. While Indian intelligence are reported to have concluded that it is responsible for only about 10 to 20 per cent of all terrorist strikes, Pakistani reports estimate that it controls about 60 per cent of terrorists operating in the State.
This outfit has come into the spotlight when the "chief commander (Operations)" Abdul Majeed Dar made a conditional offer of cease-fire at a press conference in Srinagar on July 24. The endorsement of this offer by the group's supremo Syed Salaudin alias Pir Sahib, followed in an Islamabad press conference on July 25. This is the second instance when a terrorist outfit in Kashmir has declared a cease-fire, after the Yasin Malik faction of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) which did so in 1994.
Addressing the press conference where three top local commanders of the outfit were also present Dar put forward three conditions for observance of the cease-fire namely, "…no use of force against mujahidin, human rights violations on the Kashmiris will end and people even with different political convictions will be allowed free expression".
All other terrorist outfits operating in J&K rejected the offer. An umbrella body of 17 Pakistan-based terrorist outfits, the Muttahida Jihad Council (MJC) met under the leadership of its deputy chairman Mohammad Usman (chief of the Muslim Janbaz Force) and rejected the move. Reacting to this stand, the MJC's chairman Syed Salaudin disassociated himself and the Hizb-ul Mujahideen from the decision. Pakistani newspapers have been speculating on a possible link between the US visit of Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad and Hizb-ul Mujahideen's cease-fire offer.
The initial stand of the Hizb on negotiations was that it would use a non-Hizb person as representative.
The Hizb-ul Mujahideen was founded in 1989 as the militant wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a socio-cultural and religious organisation of Jammu and Kashmir. It was originally termed Al Badr but was soon renamed as the Hizb-ul Mujahideen. The Jamaat-e-Islami is reported to have set up this terrorist front at the prodding of ISI, as an Islamic counter to the JKLF, which is secular terrorist outfit with an indigenous cadre base. The Hizb-ul Mujahideen stands for the integration of J&K with Pakistan.
Early in its history, the Hizb-ul Mujahideen had established contacts with Afghan mujahideen groups such as Hizb-e-Islami under which its cadre received arms training. Its present strength is an estimated 800 terrorists with the districts of Poonch, Rajouri and Doda as its principle areas of operation.
Since 1997, this group has been operating in tandem with the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Among their joint operations include the Wandhama and the Chittisinghpora massacres. In association with the Harkat-ul-Ansar, the group attacked an Army camp in Nathnusha, Kupwara district on August 6, 1999 killing five army-men including a Captain. The Hizb-ul Mujahideen was also responsible for setting on fire the Muslim shrine of Charar-e-Sharif in 1995. Among other major attacks by the group was an Improvised Explosive Devise (IED) blast targeted at a security forces convoy in Tral which killed 11 policemen on February 18, 2000.
In promoting Pakistan's agenda, the group has killed several moderate Kashmiris besides attacking a JKLF camp in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan controlled Kashmir. In turn, the group has also been the target of counter insurgent groups whose members are primarily former terrorists of groups that were decimated by the Hizb-ul Mujahideen during the early nineties, in its endeavour to dominate the insurgency in the State.
From the nature of activities indulged in by the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, it appears that the outfit provides the local knowledge and support, required by the preferred mercenary outfits of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) such as the Harkat-ul Ansar and the Lashkar-e-Toiba, whose cadre are largely foreign. Indian intelligence sources suspect that the ISI has taken a strategic decision to promote the newly founded Jaish-e Mohammed at the cost of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen. This strategic shift has probably prompted the cease-fire decision. Such a turn of events mirrors the history of the JKLF.
The group has suffered several setbacks in its history. The supreme chief of the outfit, Master Ahsan Dhar was arrested by security forces in December 1993 and is in custody. A former chief commander, Ghulam Rasool Shah alias Imran Rahi, had given up terrorism in favour of dialogue to end the crisis. A prominent commander Abdul Hameed Butt alias Bombar Khan who was the prime accused in the Wandhama massacre, was killed on March 13, 2000 in Sheikhpora.
A report in February 1998 had indicated that the ISI had removed Syed Salaudin from the premiership of the outfit. The authenticity of the report came under doubt after investigations into the Chattisinghpora massacre indicated that Salauddin had in-fact led the joint group which perpetrated the massacre.
There are several unconfirmed reports which indicate that the group's parent organisation, the Jamaat-e-Islami was disgusted with the violent actions of its terrorist arm and had therefore, disassociated itself from the actions of the group. The mainstream leadership of the Jamaat had openly come out against terrorism with its chief Ghulam Mohammed Butt declaring in a November 14, 1998 press conference that the organisation was not connected with terrorism in any way and that it was committed to democratic and constitutional means to achieve its goal. He had added that Jamaat members who were part of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen were expelled from the parent organisation. A dissenting voice to this mainstream opinion was that of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a senior leader and executive committee member of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, who maintained that the Jamaat could not be isolated from the ongoing armed struggle.
An irony in India's fight against insurgency is that the Hizb-ul Mujahideen along with the Harkat-ul-Ansar and Lashkar-eToiba are yet to be officially banned by the Indian government.
Courtesy: South Asia Terrorism Portal