Did Syed Salahuddin – the supreme commander of Kashmiri guerrilla group Hizbul Mujahideen – ever kill any US soldier or citizen? Did he or his group ever target American interests in any part of the world? Did he ever express intentions of linking his armed struggle with any global militant movement, or declare an agenda outside the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir – his motherland that remains occupied by India?
The answer to these questions is clearly in the negative.
What Salahuddin has been doing since the early 1990s is no different from what countless freedom-loving men and women, in many parts of the world and throughout human history, have done; resisting the illegal occupation of their lands and fighting State oppression and terrorism.
He and his followers have been struggling to free Kashmir and Kashmiri Muslims from the clutches of Hindu-dominated India, which has persistently been denying them the right of self-determination as outlined in the 1948 United Nations resolution.
Salahuddin, and scores of Kashmiris like him, have been forced to take up arms against Indian occupation forces because they have no other option. Their fundamental human rights have been trampled upon; their basic civil rights violated and all democratic avenues for the holding of a UN-sponsored plebiscite closed.
That’s the reason the world finds generation after generation of Kashmiris fighting to win freedom from India and paying the price of this struggle with their sweat, tears, blood and lives.
Since January 1989 to date, Indian occupation forces have killed more than 94,000 Kashmiris, including around 8,000 in custody. This is one of the worst examples of State terrorism in the South Asian region. Many more Kashmiris have been wounded, paralysed for life, raped, blinded and jailed for standing up against India’s aggressive occupation.
Indian brutalities intensify
Indian atrocities against Kashmiri Muslims have intensified since the extremist Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. But against all odds, Kashmiris have kept their dream of freedom alive and, in fact, intensified their struggle.
Unarmed, stone-pelting Kashmiri men and women now daily defy the Indian occupation with courage and determination. Many young men and women have no other choice but to join the poorly armed and trained groups of freedom fighters, to resist the terrorism unleashed by more than 700,000 regular and paramilitary Indian occupation troops.
It is the proverbial Biblical battle between David and Goliath. No international democratic, legal or moral code can deny people the right to resist occupation and fight for their freedom.
There is a growing feeling in Pakistan that Washington has started to talk in the language of Indians
Yet on June 26, the Trump administration declared Syed Salahuddin “a specially designated global terrorist” 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.”
Given Salahuddin’s Kashmir-centric struggle, how does he pose a threat to the United States? Why have past US governments not characterised him as such? These are fundamental questions that remain unanswered, perhaps even unasked. Nevertheless, the Trump administration announced this controversial decision, which authorises it to block assets of individuals and entities that provide support and services to “terrorists and terrorist organisations.”
Hurting Pak-US ties
Although the US move has little bearing on Salahuddin, or the indigenous Kashmiri struggle for now, it has great symbolic value. In a sensitive conflict, in which the United States has maintained a delicate posture of neutrality for the past 70 years or so, President Donald Trump has decided to throw American weight solidly behind India. In a way, this condones India’s State-sponsored terrorism, brutalities and all the human rights violations and condemns those who are resisting them.
The Panama Papers-tainted and unpopular government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may not be able to articulate Pakistani sentiment and the case properly, but this US policy shift will only add to the distrust of Pakistanis and their institutions toward Washington in a way never witnessed in the past, including the times when the United States walked away from Afghanistan in the early 1990s.
The decision has tarnished the image of the United States in Pakistan, which has a long history of cooperation and friendly ties with Washington despite all the ups and downs.
There is a growing feeling in Pakistan that Washington has started to talk in the language of Indians, which only fuels anti-US sentiment among Pakistanis, including moderate, modern and secular-minded Muslims, who stand firmly opposed to extremism and terrorism, but believe in supporting the legitimate freedom struggle of Kashmir.
Although Pakistan’s military and civil leadership want to have good relations with the United States, it will be forced to look at other avenues to ensure regional stability and protect its core national interests in which the Kashmir issue tops the list.
By branding a nationalist leader a global terrorist, the Trump administration has strengthened the argument of the global Islamic militant groups, which accuse Washington of working against the interests of Muslims the world over.
Trump has indeed further deepened and widened the gulf between the United States and Pakistan without altering the ground situation in Indian occupied Kashmir where a younger and far more aggressive breed of radical Kashmiris are now spearheading the movement from the ground. Syed Salahuddin, who remains a hero for Kashmiris, Pakistanis and all freedom loving people the world over, may be seen as a veteran of this struggle, which now is in the hands of young guns.
What President Trump has managed to achieve with his ill-advised decision of branding a freedom fighter a terrorist, is to increase instability and polarisation in South Asia – the nuclear flashpoint – and give a nod to the Indians to be more brazen in the use of force against Kashmiri Muslims. This augurs ill for the prospects of peace in this region.
Pakistan must continue to give all possible diplomatic, moral and political support to Kashmir’s freedom movement and engage not just with the United States, but with the world, to plead the case of Kashmiri Muslims.
It is also the time for Pakistan’s establishment to engage in some straight talk with their “American friends” and make it clear that there will not be any compromise on the country’s core national interests, despite all the pressure on its eastern and western frontiers – which apparently is being done with a tactical nod from the Americans.