US designates Hizbul Mujahideen as terrorist group, slaps sanctions
The United States on Wednesday named Pakistan-based Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group, a little more than 50 days after adding its chief Syed Salahuddin to its list of designated global terrorists.
“Today’s action notifies the US public and the international community that HM is a terrorist organisation,” the US state department said in a statement, adding such designations expose and isolate terrorist groups and individuals, and “assist the law enforcement activities of US agencies and other governments”.
This designation will be welcomed by authorities in India. The Hizb is one of the two most active Pakistan-based terrorist groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir, and claimed responsibility for several attacks, including the April 2014 explosives attack in Kashmir that injured 17 people.
The US had named the group’s 71-year-old leader Salahuddin alias Mohammad Yusuf Shah as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on June 26, just hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi met President Donald Trump at the White House.
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.
The issue was being discussed between the Indian side and the Trump administration for long, sources said. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and foreign secretary S Jaishankar had taken up the designation of terrorists with their US counterparts.
According to sources, Modi flagged the issue of counter-terrorism cooperation with US defence secretary James Mattis and secretary of state Rex Tillerson during meetings before he held talks with Trump in June.
“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,” a source said.
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. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa are among those who have glorified slain Hizb commander Burhan Wani as a leader of the “freedom struggle” in Kashmir.
The Hizb joins the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba on the US list of foreign terrorist organisations. The other two groups were designated on the same day on December 26, 2001. Two other anti-India groups, Indian Mujahideen (2011) and al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (2016), are also in the list.
By adding the Hizb to the list, the US seeks to “to deny HM the resources it needs to carry out terrorist attacks”. All its properties and interests in properties subject to US jurisdiction will be blocked and Americans will be prohibited from “engaging in any transactions with the group”.
Started in 1989, Hizbul is one of the largest and oldest groups operating in Kashmir. Its leader 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”.
(With inputs from HTC in Delhi)