New Delhi, May 17: Indian intelligence agencies believe that in contradiction to media claims, Pakistan’s recent clampdown on the Hizb-ul Mujahideen was aimed at checking infighting and not at disciplining the outfit to facilitate the peace process.
The media projection that Islamabad was disarming the Hizb cadre is eyewash, claimed government sources. According to reports available with the Centre, all that the Pakistani establishment did was to pick up a few persons from the two factions of the Kashmiri militant outfit to stop bloodshed within its ranks.
One of the Hizb factions is headed by Syed Salahuddin and the other by supporters of Abdul Majid Dar, a former chief operation commander of Kashmir who was shot dead on March 23 at his ancestral house in Sopore.
Hizb, which has the most indigenous Kashmiris on its rolls, has been designated a “terrorist group” by the US state department.
The genesis of the infighting lies in rival claims over the Hizb headquarters located near Islamabad. It was taken over in a show of strength by the Dar faction, whose members are believed to have decamped with the organisational funds as well as other internal documents after an intense fight. In the process, about a dozen militants were injured, intelligence sources said.
To reign in the outlaws, the Pakistani authorities closed the Hizb camp and seized their arms and ammunition.
“It is not that they took action against the Hizb as a whole. They took these steps merely to check the faction feud within the outfit (from) coming into the public domain,” the intelligence sources said. The ISI would not like Salahuddin’s position to be weakened, they claimed.
If the Pakistani establishment was serious about closing down the terrorist camps, they would have disarmed the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, too, the sources argued. These two organisations, they claimed, are still openly asking people to donate funds for “liberating” Kashmir.
This is not the first major case of infighting between the supporters of the two Hizb factions. Last November, there were clashes in the Hizb’s Terbela camp in Taxila, a transit facility that came up when the Pervez Musharraf government tried to hoodwink the international community by saying that no terrorist-related infrastructure existed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
The internecine fighting in the Hizb has its origin in Dar’s July 2000 ceasefire call. Salahuddin, who was against it, gave 15 days to Delhi to accede to three conditions so that the ceasefire could continue. The Centre refused and the calm did not hold.
Differences between Dar and Salahuddin sharpened since then, leading to Dar being replaced by Ghulam Hasan Khan alias Saif-ul-Islam, who was shot by security forces on April 2 this year.
Intelligence officials said Salahuddin had systematically purged Dar sympathisers from the Hizb hierarchy. Dar confidants, who were divisional commanders of various regions in Kashmir, like Masood Tantray (since dead), Abdul Zaffar Fateh, Farooq Mircha and Dr Yazdani, were replaced by Salahuddin’s own men, including Umar Javed, Shardaar Peer, Zubair-ul-Islam and Qamar-ul-Zaman.
At present, the strength of militants operating in Kashmir is assessed to be between 3,000 and 3,500, of which the most — around 1,500 — belong to the Hizb. Yet, it has not been effective due to the faction feud, the intelligence agencies claimed.