Hizbul Mujahideen Chief Killed In Kashmir
For the second time in 2020, Indian security forces killed Hizbul Mujahideen’s leader — a big setback for the militant organization.
“I protected my children under my wings like a hen does her chicks. I didn’t know he would run away like this… He wanted to be a doctor. He said he would help people. He didn’t become one but went into the medical line nevertheless. Then, he suddenly picked up the gun,” said Sarwa Begum about her son, Hizbul Mujahideen chief Saifullah Mir, in an interview with Riyaz Wani for Huffington Post India.
Indian security forces killed Saifullah Mir, also known as Ghazi Haider or Dr. Saifullah, in a gunfight on November 1 in Rangreth on the outskirts of Srinagar. Mir was the chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen, a militant group founded 30 years ago with the aim of uniting India-administered Kashmir with Pakistan.
Before joining the Hizbul Mujahideen, Saifullah Mir was a repairman of medical equipment. Neighbors in his home village of Malangpora, Pulwama described him as quiet and religious. However, in 2014, his family lost contact with Saifullah after he joined the militants.
According to police statements, Saifullah was behind last week’s killing of three Indian political workers from the Bharatiya Janata Party.
“He had killed many innocent people including three policemen. He was behind the killing of two truck drivers immediately after the abrogation of Article 370. He attacked a Sarpanch in Kulgam recently but he survived the attack… He also had a hand in the killing of three BJP workers in Kulgam earlier this week. He is involved in over a dozen terror cases and has killed over half-a-dozen people. He was also involved in harming several people and destroying government property, as well as involved in several grenade attacks,” said Director General of Police Dilbag Singh during a press conference, as reported in the New Indian Express on November 1.
The Hizbul Mujahideen named Saifullah as the new chief in May 2020, only days after the death of chief Riyaz Naikoo. The Indian security forces killed Naikoo during a gunfight in his home village of Beighpora. Beighpora is only about five kilometers from Malangpora — Saifullah’s home village.
Previous chief Burhan Wani sparked a new wave of militancy in the Kashmir Valley. He used his charisma and social media savvy to bring younger generations into the Hizbul Mujahideen. Indian security forces killed Wani in July 2016. Wani’s killing ignited massive protests across Kashmir and an extended period of violent unrest and increased Indian military presence. When the dust settled after the protests, over 120 civilians had been fatally shot.
The killing of Saifullah is the most recent in a series of setbacks for the Hizbul Mujahideen. While the head of the hydra is severed, anti-Indian sentiments and political tensions are seemingly reaching new heights, especially after Kashmir lost its right to partial self-governance in August 2019. Then in April 2020, Indian Prime Minister Modi announced that non-Kashmiri Indians could now apply for Kashmir residency, sparking fears of a possible demographics change in the Muslim-majority region.
Constant violence and political conflict have left many Kashmiri traumatized and looking for answers. While militancy is a major threat, the Indian security forces have been accused of widespread human rights abuses against the people of Kashmir. One 2015 report by Amnesty International describes the scale of the Indian security forces abuses.
“Shocking as the government statistics are, human rights activists and lawyers say that the figure of civilian deaths caused by the security forces fails to reflect the true scale of violations by security forces. Activists estimate that up to half of all human rights violations by security force personnel may have gone unreported in the 1990s and early 2000s. Amnesty International reports in the early to mid-1990s documented a large number of instances of torture and deaths in custody of security forces. This organization alone recorded more than 800 cases of torture and deaths in the custody of army and other security forces in the 1990s, and hundreds of other cases of extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances from 1989 to 2013.”
There are allegedly three men in the running for the now-vacant seat as chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen. The organization hasn’t announced the new chief yet but the forerunner appears to be Ashraf Molvi, also called Mohammad Ashraf Khan. Unlike many in the Kashmir Hizbul Mujahideen with only rudimentary training and experience, Molvi received his training in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Regardless of who is named the new chief, the Hizbul Mujahideen will likely have a tough time keeping him alive.