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August 18, 2000
Militant Hizb angling for a political slot
Josy Joseph in New Delhi
The Hizbul Mujahideen is plotting to carve political space for itself in the Kashmir Valley, according to reliable observers of the state.
If analysis based on detailed intelligence inputs is right, the Hizb is trying to replace the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference as the leading separatist political group in the valley. And its patron, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, is actively aiding this plan.
This was the main aim behind the Hizb's short-lived ceasefire and continuing efforts to raise Kashmiri hopes. As late as Thursday the Hizb repeated its offer of talks with India. The organisation has the largest number of militant cadres, most of them locals, in the valley.
In fact, the sources say, the recent attack on a Lashkar-e-Tayiba camp by Hizb men along with local villagers is a strong expression of the militant group's attempt to identify itself with the local population. "Such acts across the state will make it more acceptable to the local people. Their traditional popularity was boosted during the ceasefire by the fact that the Union home secretary came down to Srinagar to discuss peace with them," a senior intelligence officer said.
Even after the ceasefire collapsed, the Hizb has been issuing statements about the possibility of renewing it if India agrees to allow Pakistan to be part of the talks. "They are trying to earn a legitimate political image," home ministry officials said.
"I won't be surprised if they turn around and agree to talk to India without Pakistan. They no more want to remain a militant group. In fact in the entire design of Pakistan and the Jehad Council, the Hizb has now been cast in a new political role," the intelligence officer pointed out.
The sequence of events after the ceasefire is proof, the ministry officials argue. Soon after the Hizb announced its truce, the Jamaat-e-Islami denounced Hizb chief Syed Salahuddin and condemned the ceasefire. "It was in all probability a ploy. By throwing it out of the JEI, indirectly the Hizb is being baptized into a role that is exclusive to Kashmir," the sources pointed out. "And that is a political role."
The ISI, which is in full control of the militant group's activities, has been giving out such hints for some time now, they said. Though some local leaders of the Hizb had jumped the gun to announce the ceasefire, it was all planned by the ISI and the United Jehad Council leadership.
There are intercepts with the intelligence agencies to show that the expulsion may have been part of a well-planned strategy to distance the Hizb from the other terrorist movements and thus give it the image of a local Kashmiri group.
One reason for carving out a political role for the Hizb, most of whose fighters are from Jammu & Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, is the APHC's inability to attract trust and get the government round to its demands.
"The APHC has lost a lot of its popular support. Besides, corruption and other allegations against it are on the rise," the sources said. Realizing this, the ISI is plotting to project the Hizb as a credible political force.
There are other internal reasons for which the Hizb may have preferred to go to the negotiation table. Of late, the Hizb's local fighters are being used by the ISI as mere couriers while foreign mercenaries belonging to groups such as the Lashkar are being preferred for the actual fighting. "The Hizb has aged and is ineffective," the intelligence officer pointed out.
Groups like Al-Badr and the Lashkar, with far fewer cadres, have been staging more deadly strikes. By contrast, the Hizb field commanders are a tired lot. Most of them were replaced just before the ceasefire was announced. Intelligence inputs said the replacements were because the commanders were ineffective.
There have been other problems ailing the Hizb, including allegations of financial impropriety against some senior commanders. In July, the monthly payment from Pakistan did not reach them in time. The denial of money was because compensation to families of militants killed in encounters had not been distributed. Besides, the cadres are disillusioned after years of struggle in the Valley, which have produced little tangible result.
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