Spawning Militancy: The Rise Of Hizbul
22 May 2003
The Indian Express
New Delhi: Yesterday, Pakistan announced its decision to impose 'restrictions' on the Hizbul Mujahideen - the largest indigenous militant outfit operating inside Kashmir. However, the group already enjoys a well- knit organisational and political support base, spread not only across the Valley but in Doda, Rajouri, Poonch and parts of Udhampur district in Jammu as well. Ever since its launch in 1989, as one of the first major pro-Pakistan organisations, the Hizbul has been synonymous with militancy in the Valley. The outfit was initially formed to keep a check on the growing influence of the pro- Independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Originally named Al Badr, it had the blessings of Pakistan's Jamat-e-Islami. Many of its militants were former JKLF members. The birth of the new outfit marked the first ideological division of militancy in Kashmir - the JKLF advocated complete independence of the State while the Al Badr favoured a merger with Pakistan. At first, the Jamat-e-Islami Pakistan did not own up to the group. However, the connection was there for all to see. Most of the Hizbul founders belonged to the Jamat-e-Islami. As the Jamat-e-Islami Kashmir has traditionally been closer to the Jamat-e-Islami Pakistan than to the Jamat-e-Islami Hind, it followed that the newly-launched Al Badr would have a well- knit organisational and cadre-based structure at its disposal in the Valley. Later, the group was renamed Hizbul Mujahideen. Master Ahsan Dar, a militant leader from Pattan, North Kashmir, became its first commander-in-chief. Incidentally Ahsan Dar used to teach in a Jamat- run school before his foray into militancy. Soon the group initiated a massive recruitment drive across the Kashmir Valley. For this, it first established a network of trained guides, generally residents of border villages. Before the emergence of militancy, most of these guides were engaged in cross-border smuggling. Unlike the JKLF, the Hizbul conducted unchecked mass recruitment drives to send youths across the border for arms training. The youths were ferried in passenger buses from Srinagar to Kupwara, from where they crossed the border. Militancy, which till then was a covert hush-hush affair, came above the ground. In late 1991, the Hizbul received a shot in the arm when another pro-Pakistan outfit, the Tehreek-e-Jihad-e- Islami (TJI), led by Abdul Majeed Dar - who later split from the Hizbul top brass after its unilateral ceasefire in July 2000 failed and was recently killed in his Sopore home - merged with it. Dar was also close to the Jamat-e-Islami and his TJI was then the biggest militant outfit in North Kashmir. The Hizbul then became the largest militant group and Ahsan Dar had over 10,000 militants under his command. By now, the JKLF had been completely marginalised and Pakistan had embargoed all supply of arms and money to it. Two training camps, Jhal and Dhani, were started in Pakistan-occupied- Kashmir for the Hizbul. Over the militancy-hit years, although almost 150 pro-Pakistan groups mushroomed in the Valley, the Hizbul was perhaps the only organisation with a large network. In fact, many of the groups existed only on paper and did little else than issue press releases. Around this time, the Jamat-e-Islami decided to openly steer militancy in the Valley. Ahsan Dar claimed the Hizbul to be the fouji bazu (armed wing) of the Jamat. However, fissures developed within the outfit and another prominent militant commander, Nasir-ul- Islam, split with his own band of men. To checkmate the Hizbul top brass and the Jamat, Nasir-ul-Islam declared his splinter group to be Islam ka fouji bazu (armed wing of Islam). Thus began the major division of the Hizbul. Nasir-ul-Islam later changed his outfit's name to Jamait-ul-Mujahideen. He was later killed in Srinagar, allegedly in custody. His group was almost wiped out but received a fillip when one of its commanders, Ghulam Rasool Shah, alias 'General Abdullah', recently escaped from policy custody and crossed over to PoK. The outfit has resumed its operations again. Meanwhile, in a bid to tighten its grip over the fractured Hizbul, the Jamat-e-Islami launched a clean-up operation within the top brass. The first step was a change in leadership since the Jamat-e-Islami was no longer comfortable with Ahsan Dar. So on November 11, 1991, another senior Jamat-e-Islami leader, Mohammad Yousuf Shah, alias Syed Salahuddin, was made the supreme commander of the outfit, superseding Ahsan Dar. And to maintain absolute control over the Hizbul, which by now dominated militancy across the State, Salahuddin divided the organisation into administrative and military wings. The administrative wing, manned by Jamat-e-Islami leaders, controlled the military commanders in the field. District administrators, who were always senior Jamat activists, were also appointed. The Hizbul's base in Srinagar city expanded when another prominent militant outfit, Allah Tigers, merged with it. However, it suffered another split with its former commander Ahsan Dar launching his own Muslim Mujahideen in Anantnag. In retaliation, the Hizbul kidnapped Dar in May 1992, but soon released him. Dar's new outfit could not match the Hizbul on the ground. Later, Dar was arrested and a majority of his group shifted loyalties and joined the counter-insurgency force. The Muslim Mujahideen commander in South Kashmir, Nabi Azad, contested elections as well. By 1993, the Hizbul was the only active outfit, with a vast network of over 6,000 militants and a large upper-level base of Jamat- e-Islami leaders across the Valley. The first blow fell in 1994, with the government's success in raising a counter-insurgency force - the Ikhwan, a private militia comprising of surrendered militants, sponsored and supported by security agencies. Aimed at wiping out the Hizbul, the force was led by Kuka Parrey in Sonawari-Bandipore, Sareer Khan in Pattan, Nabi Azad in rural Anantnag and Hilal Hider in Anantnag town. At least 2,000 Jamat-e-Islami activists, besides scores of Hizbul cadre, were killed. But the Hizbul retained its grassroot network and remained at the forefront even as pan-Islamic Jehadi groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad dominated the violent movement. Meanwhile, foreign militants had started joining the outfit and were deployed as bodyguards of top Hizbul leaders, besides running training camps in remote villages. These foreigners later became part of assault groups. With the increase in the number of foreign militants, the local-foreigner tussle was bound to follow. The foreign cadre were unwilling to work under the local command. Finally in 1998, the foreigners split to form a separate group - the Al Badr, which is led by Pakistani national Bakht Zameen and has completely severed its ties with the Hizbul. It was one of the groups that vehemently opposed the Hizbul's ceasefire proposal in 2000. The Hizbul also established a women's wing, the Binat-ul-Islam led by Umi-Arifa, which would visit families of slain militants. According to a security agency, about half the 11,000-odd militants killed in the first 11 years of violence in Kashmir belonged to the Hizbul. But despite massive efforts by security forces and the Ikhwan, it still remains the biggest indigenous militant outfit. Today, while security agencies believe that out of around 3000 militants operating in the State, the Hizbul accounts for 1500-1700 active members, sources say the number is far more. In Kashmir, after Majid Dar's expulsion as chief commander, senior commander Saif-ul- Islam was sent, who revived the group's base, cashing in on the ban on the Lashkar and Jaish. The outfit is now led by Gazi Naseer-ud-din in the Valley. The Hizbul also runs a news agency from PoK, the Kashmir Press International. Its research centre, the Kashmir Information Centre, based in Muzaffarabad in PoK, is headed by Ghulam Nabi Nowshehri. The outfit's propaganda arsenal comprises of three films: Barood ka Toufa (Gift of Explosives), Afghan ki Lalkar (War Cry of an Afghan) and Gazi Ibni Qasim, a film on the life of Pakistani Jamat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad.