19 August 2000

Dateline Kashmir: Why the Hizb talked and why it'll talk again

19 August 2000
The Times of India

Dateline Kashmir
Why the Hizb talked and why it'll talk again


Srinagar: Intelligence and counter-insurgency officials are convinced that the Hizbul Mujahideen will come back to the negotiating table. They are also certain the militant outfit will not split. indeed, many officers told this correspondent that either as soldiers or negotiators they would rather deal with a united group, and that if anybody in New Delhi was trying to split the Hizbul Mujahideen, they should not do so.

``If the Hizbul Mujahideen splits, it may be a tactical victory for us. But we will lose the big prize,'' said one army officer. Contrary to popular belief, Hizb commander Abdul Majid Dar's offer was neither the result of subterfuge aimed at allowing the Hizbul Mujahideen to recuperate nor of an operation being run by an Indian intelligence agency. Though there are rumours of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) having facilitated Dar's movements in the days preceding his July 24 announcement of the ceasefire - the word is that its hush-hush Special Frontier Force (earlier known as 2-2) flew him in on a special plane from either Kathmandu or Dubai - intelligence officials in Kashmir say the Hizbul Mujahideen ceasefire offer was the product of Dar's own assessment of the ground situation.

They say he had been moving around between different locations in the valley for several weeks. During that period, in fact, the security forces - who thought initially that he was trying to rejuvenate the Hizb - were desperately trying to track him down. ``If an Indian agency was running Dar,'' said a source, ``they were taking a huge risk by letting him move around because every other agency here was trying to bump him off.''

According to a senior officer from one of the security forces, Dar's offer may have come as a surprise but there were plenty of indications that something was brewing. ``We had been picking up reports that the Hizb leadership in Pakistan was upset with the ISI,'' he said. Its Muzaffarabad-based chief, Syed Salahuddin, had been growing wary of Pakistan's support for Maulana Masood Azhar's Jaish-e-Mohammed. In June, Salahuddin had a meeting with the Pakistan army and ISI, where, according to Indian intelligence reports, heated exchanges took place. The Hizb chief complained that his organisation was being ignored. He said the ISI had placed enormous funds at the disposal of the JeM and charged that this meant Kashmiris were not being trusted.

According to sources, Salahuddin said the jehad is of Kashmiris ``and we had asked outsiders to help us. But the purpose of JeM is to sideline us and give control to outsiders''. Salahuddin also tried to mobilise support from the other Kashmiri militant groups in the United Jehad Council and even tried to float a `Kashmir Liberation Army'. According to one report that an Indian agency received: ``Salahuddin has strongly objected to the formation of Jaish-e-Mohammed outfit. He said the present Pakistani government has lost faith in us and for this reason it has brought outsiders (non-Kashmiris) to participate in tehrik-e-jehad of Kashmir. He has appealed to members of Jehad Council to remain vigilant in this regard otherwise present movement will slip out of their hands''.

Under ISI pressure, the KLA plan was dropped but Salahuddin sent Dar across to test the waters. In the valley, Dar found a demoralised cadre. The Hizbul Mujahideen had borne the brunt of counter-insurgency operations for the past two years. He also found its political wing, the Jamaat-e-Islami, and its ameer, Ghulam Mohammed Butt, stressing the necessity for dialogue. Indian security forces sources say Dar's ceasefire offer took Pakistan by surprise but eventually Islamabad was able to pressure Salahuddin into scuttling the dialogue.

Several officers were also critical of the way New Delhi handled the situation. ``I don't think the government showed the right kind of maturity or discipline,'' said a senior officer. ``We had an excellent opportunity to turn Hizbul Mujahideen around. And had we done that, the other outfits would have had a tough time since they rely on Hizb cadre to move around the valley.''

However, most officers are confident the Hizb will eventually come back to talk. ``Pakistan is going to be even more suspicious of them,'' said one. ``And people here want dialogue to continue. I think the combined pressure will do the trick.''

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