| Hizb-ul Mujahideen supreme leader Syed Salahuddin. (Reuters)
Islamabad, July 11: The largest Kashmiri militant outfit, the Hizb-ul Mujahideen, once again finds itself in the eye of a storm.
Reports of yet another split in its ranks, some of them planted by intelligence agencies, follows recent clashes within the outfit in different parts of Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir under its control.
Hizb sources in Muzaffarabad, capital of PoK, said today that supreme leader Syed Salahuddin is still very much in control with over a thousand fighters remaining loyal to him. Attempts by renegade Hizb fighters, who had joined former chief operations commander Majid Dar two years ago to overthrow Peer Sahab, as Salahuddin is called in the outfit, have all hit a dead end, the sources said.
At the centre of the rumours are 200 Kashmiri militants who had tried to raise their own faction called Hizb-e Islami after Majid Dar’s murder in March this year. Soon after India announced a ceasefire in July 2000, Dar had seized the opportunity and established contacts with New Delhi, apparently without Salahuddin’s approval.
The Hizb chief had then invited Dar to Pakistan for talks to clear up the leadership tussle. However, fear of a loss of clout that he thought he had created for himself by entering into talks with New Delhi held him back.
Dar was eventually expelled from the party a year ago.
Dar’s followers had been trying for the last six months to seize Hizb offices in Muzaffarabad, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. This resulted in serious clashes between the two groups. The renegades’ attempts to create a separate faction suffered a serious setback after the murder of Majid Dar.
Most of the rebels have now joined commander Masood Sarfarz — known as the Lion of Peer Panjal in the Jammu region. Masood Sarfraz was the Hizb commander in PoK before breaking away to create his own Hizb-e Islami faction in 2000.
A spokesman for Masood’s Hizb-e Islami, Sikandar Rajaurvi, told The Telegraph that 467 Dar loyalists had already joined hands with them. “Since Dar’s murder left a leadership vacuum within his followers, we have now accepted them into our ranks,” Sikandar said.
The numbers, according to Kashmiri sources, are not as high as Masood claims. The sources also disputed reports of a split in the Hizb-ul Mujahideen.
“There have been four splits since 1990 in the outfit — all aimed at removing Syed Salahuddin. However, so far he has survived every scare and split and is still fully in control,” the source said.
Observers say that even if Dar loyalists had succeeded in creating their own faction, they have not been recognised by other members of the Kashmiri jihad due to the fact that Salahuddin still stands tall.
Even the Pakistani government, sources say, played a key role in pre-empting any further division of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen. Some Hizb sources claim Salahuddin had refused to reconcile with the renegades and opposed attempts aimed at another faction.