With failure to deliver on grand promises costing it local support, Hizbul now struggles to gain fresh recruits and drum up finances.
Early last month, in a brazen display of his apparent immunity from justice, Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin sought fresh recruits and funds at a public rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
The rally, dubbed the "Shuada Conference" and held in the Swan Adda area of the garrison town, was organised by Al-Badr Mujahideen, a breakaway faction of Hizbul.
"We are fighting in Kashmir. It doesn't matter to us if we are labeled terrorists," Salahuddin trumpeted, employing familiar rhetoric.
Such theatrics have long been Salahuddin's hallmark, but whether it still has resonance is another question. Things have changed since the days of 1986-87, when he used to flaunt his .303 rifle and climb atop minibuses in Srinagar to shout slogans together with young supporters.
Since the beginning of 2009, Hizbul has started showing signs of a palpable decline. Its attempts to inflict violence have become sporadic and ineffectual. Its cadres have diminished and its funds have dried up. Meanwhile, the youth who formerly looked up to Hizbul have grown dismayed with its failure to deliver on its promises, and disgusted with extremist violence.
"The dejection was an outcome of the realisation that at the height of its power, Hizbul could not achieve what it had set out to do -- which was to separate Kashmir from India," said Muzaffar Ahmed Dar, a former Hizbul operational commander, now on trial for insurgency-related incidents, in comments to Khabar South Asia.
According to Ali K Chisti, a Pakistani expert on terror groups, the extremist threat has also become more diffuse. "On the Pakistani side, a large number of Hizbul cadres moved to other terror groups," notably the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), he told Khabar by phone.
"Hizbul cadres now maintain close ties with the TTP and regularly travel to the tribal belt for training and business. The traffic of course is two-way, since the Punjabi Taliban provide safe havens in south Punjab to top Taliban and al-Qaeda militants."
India has long accused Pakistan of providing state support to the militants. But according to a May 2007 news report in the magazine Frontline, the level of support has plummeted as the Pakistani government's conflict with the Taliban deepens. According to the report, funding granted to Hizbul does not "even meet the Hizbul's annual commitment, estimated at Indian RS 27 million ($484,000), to the families of cadres killed in combat".
It is a frustrating turn of fortunes for Salahuddin, born Syed Mohammad Yusuf Shah in Indian Kashmir. Under his leadership, Hizbul had become one of the most dreaded terror organisations in the sub-continent. From assassinating the chief cleric of Srinagar, Mirwaiz Moulvi Farooq in May 1990 to blowing up a paramilitary convoy killing 33 people in South Kashmir in 2004, its tactics were lethal and free of scruple.
It also gained a reputation for violently suppressing any internal dissent. Its chief commander in Kashmir, Abdul Majeed Dar, was murdered after he fell out with Salahuddin over a conditional ceasefire Dar offered to India in 2000.
During the 1990s, at the height of its power, the group drummed up funds via its massive Jamaat-e-Islami contingent within Kashmir. Locals supported the Hizbul militants by offering meals, clothes and shelter. And yet Hizbul could not bring India to its knees.
"Now that India has grown fat economically and militarily, the majority do not expect any magic to happen. But primarily it is the overall geo-politics of the region that enfeebled the militant outfit," Dar said. "The group does not have as many resources- capital and human- as it used to have."
No wonder Salahuddin is holding public rallies in Pakistan to raise funds and recruit new 'Mujahideen', quips Dar.