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J&K: With change in command set-up, HM takes centrestage

Author: Bashaarat Masood
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: September 2, 2013
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/j-k-with-change-in-command-setup-hm-takes-centrestage/1163205/

After lying low for years, Hizbul Mujahideen is taking centrestage of Kashmir's militant scene replacing Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) as the most formidable militant outfit.

In recent months, it carried out several attacks hinting at increased operational capabilities. J-K Police say all the attacks have been traced to Hizb and they are taking the resurgence seriously and focusing attention on the outfit.

A senior police officer told The Indian Express they are taking Hizb revival seriously. In fact, police top brass discussed resurgence of Hizb and are planning a counter strategy. The resurgence of Hizb started after the outfit made changes to its command structure at Muzaffarabad. Sources say Hizb chief Syed Salah-ud-din looks after militant operations in Kashmir and his deputy Aamir Khan has been replaced by a Pakistani commander, Shamsheer Khan. In the valley, the militant outfit has no operational chief, divisional or district commanders. This, police sources say, is apparently to avoid attention.

Police sources say new educated militant recruits join Hizb and in recent times. If any commander came on police radar, he was immediately recalled to Muzaffarabad.

Sources said some years ago, the militant outfit deliberately left space open for Lashkar. They say it is why in the past few years, Hizb didn't take responsibility for attacks by its men.

Once a formidable militant outfit with thousands of cadres across Jammu and Kashmir, Hizbul Mujahideen was the first outfit to welcome foreign militants. On Friday, Army had killed five Hizbul militants, all of them foreign, in the Valley.

Emergence of counter insurgent group Ikhwan was the first major blow to the outfit. Supported by Army and Police Special Operations Group, Ikhwan dented Hizbul's operational capabilities killing a large number of militants and sympathizers.

By the time Hizbul tided over Ikhwan, its men and power were substantially diminished. Lashkar and breakaway group Al Badr, formed by foreign militants in Hizbul, too became formidable. Though the militant outfit continued to lose cadres, there was little replacement as few local boys were willing to join militant ranks.

Local boys have once again started joining militant ranks, and Hizbul is automatically becoming their first choice. The new breed of militants, mostly young educated boys, have shunned mobile phones to survive longer. Police sources say this is the major difference between Lashkar and the Hizbul. They say unlike Lashkar, Hizbul relies on human couriers and internet for communication and police have to rely solely on human intelligence. Police sources say most militants killed in recent years have been tracked based on technical intelligence.

The militant outfit has substantial sympathizers in the valley, and is using sleeper cells. Sources say Hizbul has a need-based approach and whenever they have to hit a target, they activate a sleeper cell. Sources say once the job is done, Hizbul abandons the cell for quite long so that they don't come on police radar and that helps them survive.
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