Seen as a diplomatic victory for India, the United States has added the Hizbul Mujahideen to its blacklist of nearly 60 terrorist organizations close on the heels of designating Syed Salahuddin , the group’s chief based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a “global terrorist”. The US State Department said Hizbul Mujahideen has been designated as a foreign terrorist organisation and a specially designated global terrorist under different laws. The decision marks a severe blow to Pakistan which has been projecting the militant group as a voice of Kashmiri people.
The State Department designation bans US citizens and residents from dealing with the group, and any assets found to belong to the Hizbul Mujahideen in areas under US jurisdiction will be frozen. Such designations, however, have had limited impact on functioning of terrorist groups in Jammu and Kashmir. For India, though the US ban on 71-year-old Salahuddin and the Hizbul is seen as a diplomatic victory, particularly since it is one of the largest groups operating in Kashmir, the Hizbul chief continues to operate freely in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and had, along with Pakistan, denounced the US move.
Salahuddin was designated a “global terrorist” by the United States during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to that country in June. India has been urging the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to ban the Hizb and its chief, but the plea has been vetoed by China. The US’s condemnation may help India’s case at the UNSC now. The Hizbul Mujahideen is the only major terror outfit in the Kashmir Valley that focuses on recruiting local youth to its ranks who are projected as “freedom fighters”. It was, perhaps, this narrative that seemed to have found some acceptance in the US administration which had blacklisted outfits such as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Jaish-eMohammed in 1997 and 2001 respectively, but had spared the Hizbul. The Hizb now joins a list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations including the LTTE, al Qaeda and the LeT.
India welcomed the US’s decision, with MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar noting that it reflected the joint commitment of the two countries to firmly deal with terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. New Delhi said it is an obligation for everyone to end moral, diplomatic and material support to such internationally designated terror outfits and individuals. “No cause or reason can justify continued provision of support, shelter and sanctuary to such entities and individuals in any manner,” the MEA spokesperson said, dubbing as “strange” that Pakistan termed the US move as “completely unjustified”. The designation has come against the backdrop of upsurge in the terror activities of the militant group in Kashmir in recent months.
Pakistan’s Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif have repeatedly praised the militant group’s slain commander Burhan Wani who was killed in July last year in an encounter in Kashmir. Formed in 1989, Hizbul Mujahideen is one of the largest and oldest militant groups operating in Kashmir. The militant group has claimed responsibility for many attacks on Indian soil, including one in April 2014 which injured 17 people in Kashmir. The designation of the Hizb came two days after the two leaders spoke on phone — Trump called to congratulate Modi on the 70th anniversary of India’s independence and announced the setting up of a new dialogue mechanism to elevate the strategic ties between the two countries.
Indian officials said the listing of the Hizb was a “logical step” after the designation of Salahuddin. The issue is of key importance to India as it will validate “cross-border terrorism as the reason behind the Kashmir issue” and the support the Hizb gets from Pakistan. New Delhi had actively pursued the case of Hizbul Mujahideen with the US authorities for some time. The home ministry forwarded documents collected from security agencies and Kashmir Police on the activities of the Hizbul Mujahideen. These documents and proofs were used appropriately. Officials were also in touch with the US authorities dealing with the matter.
The US move will help India put the squeeze on Pakistan, whose leaders have sought to portray Hizb cadres as “freedom fighters” at a time of heightened terrorist activity in Kashmir. More significantly, the US designation will strengthen India’s hands in exposing the duplicitous role played by Pakistan’s security establishment in backing the militancy in Kashmir. Salahuddin, who is based in Rawalpindi and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, has claimed to have carried out several “operations” in India — including the Pathankot attack, which Indian blamed on the JeM – and has boasted of the capability to strike “at any time”.
Reports say that Salahuddin has admitted in the past that the Pakistani military allows him to run “hundreds of training camps in the state where we recruit and train the mujahideen. He is also known to raise money for jihadist groups operating in South Asia. In addition to serving as the chief of HM, Salahuddin is the chairman of the United Jihad Council, which is supported by the Pakistani military and the ISI.The focus of the United Jihad Council is waging jihad against Indian institutions inside Kashmir, but the council also serves as a bridge to other jihadist groups operating in the region. Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, two groups that are on the US and United Nations lists of terror organizations, are part of his United Jihad Council.