s before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s met with President Donald Trump, United States declared Mohammad Yousuf Shah, the Pakistan-based chief of the Hizbul Mujahideen, a global terrorist. A politician-turned-militant commander Shah, known by his alias of Syed Salahuddin, has been on India’s most wanted list for a long time.
While the US declaration could put Pakistan in a tight spot –a native of central Kashmir’s Budgam, Salahuddin is based in Pakistan – the declaration may not have a major impact on the ground in the Valley, where the local leadership appears to be well entrenched.
Salahuddin is the chief of the Valley’s largest indigenous militant outfit, the Hizbul Mujahideen, and by virtue of it he is also the chairman of the United Jihad Council (UJC) – an umbrella group of militant outfits operating in Jammu and Kashmir. Though the outfit maintains links with militant outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), unlike them it has no global agenda thus far.
In fact, recently Salah-ud-din had warned the people of Jammu and Kashmir to stay away from the influence of global terror outfits like the Islamic State (IS) and al Qaeda. Instead, the militant outfit and its political patrons like the Hurriyat Conference have always pinned their hopes on the intervention of western powers – the United States to European Union – for a resolution of the Kashmir issue.
In the Valley, the Hizb is not just the largest militant outfit, it is also credited with the resurgence of militancy in the Valley in recent years – slain Hizb commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani was the outfit’s operations chief in the Valley and was instrumental in promoting militancy in Kashmir. Since his death last July, the Valley has been frequently disrupted by clashes between security forces and local outfits.
In the light of renewed militancy in the Valley, the declaration of Salahuddin as a global terrorist might be seen as a major diplomatic win for New Delhi and pave the way for the government to deal with militants without many questions being asked by the West.
However, though Salahuddin is the “supreme commander” of Hizb, currently there is little coordination between the Pakistan-based Hizb leadership and the militants in the Valley. Operational decisions are taken by the local commanders and at times in defiance of the Salahuddin-led central command of the outfit. Local Hizb commander Zakir Musa’s recently said that militants are fighting for the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate, contrary to Hizb’s position. His outburst against the Hurriyat which the Hizb distanced itself from led Musa to threaten to disassociate himself with the latter.
The US decision on Salahuddin could strengthen the lobby that identifies itself with the militants like Zakir Musa. Any such ideological shift in Kashmir militancy would also mean that Kashmir could attract international outfits like the Islamic State – which would not be good news for either the Indian state or the people of Jammu and Kashmir.