New Delhi: Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s killing in July 2016 in Kashmir decapitated a militant outfit that had ruled the roost in the Valley. That situation is fast changing, with intelligence reports saying the group is busy recalibrating its policies.

With the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) having begun regrouping in 2014, with financial aid from Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the Hizbul Mujahideen is now pulling out all stops to stay apace with its rival militant groups.

According to intelligence reports reviewed by Mint, the Hizbul, under Syed Salahuddin’s leadership, has been concerned over the lack of autonomy provided by the ISI to the group, and has also been at loggerheads with the agency over the importance it has been giving other groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).

According to the Union home ministry, 169 militants had been gunned down in Kashmir by security forces till October, 50 of them from the Hizbul.

According to intelligence officials in Kashmir, the group’s recruitment rallies have come to a grinding halt in Pakistan due to dwindling support from the ISI, prompting it to look at recruiting from areas where militancy has come down in Kashmir.

Likewise, with a desperate shortage of weapons, the group is now looking at the Af-Pak (Afghanistan-Pakistan) region as well as areas within Kashmir to source arms.

“The Hizbul has been ruing the lack of functional autonomy by the ISI, vis-à-vis Kashmir. Senior Hizbul commanders are now looking to win over some personnel of the J&K police, who could help them in procuring arms and ammunition seized from slain militants. They are also planning to recruit youth from the hilly belts of Doda-Kishtwar and Poonch Rajouri (Kashmir) to use them as armed cadres after training and transportation of weapons," the report stated.

Even as JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar’s nephew Talha Rasheed was gunned down in Pulwama district by security forces on Monday, intelligence agencies stated that this will not change things for the JeM.

“The JeM has been regrouping and strengthening their cadres since the hanging of Afzal Guru (convicted in the 2001 Parliament attack case) in 2014. China has been bailing Masood Azhar out every time at the UNSC (United Nations Security Council). So, one of Azhar’s nephews or even a local commander dying has no impact in Kashmir. The JeM has a tight grip there now and the Hizbul is trying to catch up," said a senior intelligence officer familiar with the developments.

On Tuesday, Indian Army chief general Bipin Rawat stated that the seizure of an M4 assault rifle (used by NATO forces in Afghanistan) from JeM terrorists showed that “they were receiving support from across the border."

Defence experts said Indian security forces had proved successful in combating militancy in the Valley all through the summer, but challenges remained.

“Syed Salahuddin has a strong hold over the youth of Kashmir. We have still not been able to create covert capabilities that can achieve the target of destroying these groups. Since we cannot conduct a direct military intervention with Pakistan, it is best if we can manage our internal security well at this point," said H.S. Panag, a former Indian Army officer and defence expert.

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