Hours before President Donald Trump’s bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, the US sent Pakistan a strong signal for sponsoring terrorism by designating Syed Salahuddin, chief of Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, as a global terrorist.
This puts counter-terrorism cooperation between India and the US at the front and centre of the relationship, and addresses one of India’s main concerns on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism — this in itself is a major takeaway from the Prime Minister’s visit.
The Ministry of External Affairs’ spokesperson Gopal Baglay welcomed the designation and said that this “vindicates India’s long-standing position that cross-border terrorism has been behind the long-standing disturbance in Kashmir since last year, and the outfits he leads perpetuates cross-border terrorism against India from Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. It also underlines quite strongly that both US and India face threat of terrorism, and terrorism knows no boundaries and is a global menace.”
Both Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who called on Modi separately on Monday, discussed “counter-terrorism cooperation”. Their meetings took place hours before the Trump-Modi meeting, and just before the State Department’s notification on Salahuddin was issued.
Sources said that it is the outcome of six months of sustained engagement between the Indian security establishment and the new US administration, especially contacts between National Security Advisor Ajit K Doval and his US counterpart Lt Gen H R McMaster.
A statement issued by the US State department said that it has designated “Mohammad Yusuf Shah, also known as Syed Salahuddin, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under Section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224, which imposes sanctions on foreign persons who have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of US nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.”
As a consequence of this designation, it said that US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with Salahuddin and all of Salahuddin’s property and interests in property subject to United States jurisdiction are blocked.
The statement also said that Salahuddin, a senior leader of the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), had in September 2016 vowed to block any peaceful resolution to the Kashmir conflict, threatened to train more Kashmiri suicide bombers, and vowed to turn the Kashmir valley “into a graveyard for Indian forces”.
Under Salahuddin’s tenure as senior leader, Hizbul Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for several attacks, including the April 2014 explosives attack in Jammu and Kashmir, which injured 17 people.
“Today’s action notifies the US public and the international community that Mohammad Yusuf Shah, aka Syed Salahuddin, has committed, or poses a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism. Designations of terrorist individuals and groups expose and isolate organizations and individuals, and result in denial of access to the US financial system. Moreover, designations can assist or complement the law enforcement actions of other nations,” the statement said.
The US Treasury department ‘s office of foreign assets control, Specially Designated Nationals List, also listed all his aliases and names and said that he lives in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Born in 1952, it said that he was born in Soibug in Budgam.
This designation is also expected to be reflected in the joint statement. So far, joint statements have mentioned Al-Qa’ida, Da’esh/ISIL, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, D-Company and their affiliates as “extremist groups”. Except for D-company, which was home-grown but funded and sponsored by Pakistan, all others have so far originated from other countries including Pakistan.
Sources said that this is a clear reflection of the “common point of view, shared by both US and India” that this organisation poses a threat to regional and global security while indulging in terrorist activities in India.
“The organisation may have local operatives, but it has been funded, sponsored, helped in carrying out its extremist and terrorist agenda by Pakistan,” a source said.
India has been aggressively dealing with Hizbul Mujahideen, especially after its local commander in Kashmir, Burhan Wani, was killed last year, sparking street protests in the Valley. Sources said this reflects the hard stance adopted by the government against the Kashmiri militant group, backed by Pakistan to conduct terror activities in J&K.
“The NSA was very clear in his approach, and this was conveyed over the last six months to American interlocutors that after Lashkar and Jaish, Hizbul Mujahideen was the big threat to the security situation in Kashmir,” a top source told The Indian Express.
The fact that the US has come around to India’s point of view on Hizbul Mujahideen, sources said, reflects the “common concern” of Washington and New Delhi that these groups cannot be spared.
Sources said the killing of Lt Umer Fayyaz, suspected to have been carried out by Hizbul Mujahideen militants, was the proverbial last straw.