Hizbul Now Biggest Militant Group

12 September 2015
The Hindu
Josy Joseph

New Delhi: Kashmir has witnessed a dramatic shift in the nature of militancy in recent months, resulting in the end of the supremacy of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), with a majority of members from Pakistan. The indigenous Hizbul Mujahideen, with almost all members from Kashmir, is now back as the number one militant group. Many see it as a warning to policymakers in both New Delhi and Srinagar to wake up to the new tide of local youths joining militancy, and the dramatic indigenisation of militant violence, which since the late 1990s was dominated by LeT. The shift also means that the attacks are getting milder, and suicide raids are no more routine. About 200 active militants are operating in the State. Of them, over 80 are in Hizbul Mujahideen, officials say. In the most dependable estimates available from J&K police and other sources, LeT has about 60 members, of which 40 are believed to be Pakistanis. Many other militant groups have altogether vanished or are on the fringe. The most interesting case is that of Al Badar, once a dreaded group known for its suicide attacks and commitment to liberate Kashmir to make it a part of Pakistan. Reliable estimates say that Al Badar may have just one active militant left in its ranks. Jaish-e-Mohammed, founded by Maulana Masood Azhar, who was released in 1999 in Kandahar in exchange for passengers of the hijacked IC 814 aircraft, is now down to less than a dozen militants on its rolls. A J&K police official said this turnaround, resulting in HM becoming the biggest militant group, may have happened because about 60 youths, most of them educated, joined it in recent months. In 2014, just 27 youths had joined militancy, and the number of youngsters joining militancy had dropped to single digit figures some years ago. But political neglect by New Delhi of the improving condition, its failure to find a lasting solution to the Kashmir issue, and continuing heavy militarisation of the region seem to be breathing life back into local militancy. The new generation of militants are not ideologically-driven Islamic fighters, but mostly have local grievances and may have suffered excesses by security forces or are dejected with basic lack of opportunities. The drop in militancy is very visible in the Jammu region. According to police, fewer than five active militants operate in the region. Hizbul's growing popularity could also mean that Pakistani agencies find it a better strategy to encourage local militants, rather than risk sending terrorists across the border. More expensive is the infiltration of terrorists through other routes such as Nepal and Bangladesh. To ensure that indigenous militancy flourishes, Pakistani agencies only have to send across money. Despite the worrying trend of local youth taking to militancy, the overall situation is very encouraging for efforts to find lasting peace. Officials said Hizbul had in the early 1990s claimed up to 10,000 cadres. By 2004, the J&K police had estimated about 3,000 militants. The numbers have been steadily dropping since then.