Why is Pakistan upset over the Salahuddin verdict?


On June 26 the US State Department designated Hizbul Mujahideen and United Jihad Council (UJC) commander Syed Salahuddin, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) under Section 1(b) of Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which “imposes sanctions on foreign persons who have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism.”

The sanctions on Salahuddin, who operates Hizb and UJC from Azad Kashmir, expectedly drew a strong reaction from Islamabad. The Foreign Office called out Washington ‘equating freedom fighters with terrorists’, while Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan said that ‘US is speaking India’s language.’

To reproduce the cliché here, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and hence Indian stance on militancy in Kashmir is, and has been, straightforward. Washington that once banned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi from travelling to the US owing to his involvement in the Gujarat riots of 2002 is also echoing New Delhi’s stance on Kashmir simply because of the growing alliance between the two countries – just like Beijing customarily backs Islamabad.

But it is the stance of Pakistan, which has been the lone voice supporting the Kashmir fight for autonomy at the global stage, that remains perplexing.

Of course there is hardly any question marks over jihad in Kashmir being a formal state policy in our neck of the woods since Partition. Pakistan has backed Hizb and other Kashmiri militant outfits in a bid to help the Indian administered part of the territory be liberated. So in that regard, Pakistan sheltering Salahuddin or other members of the UJC groups is perfectly consistent with its stance on Kashmir.

But then one wonders why the likes of Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) are banned in Pakistan, when they too were founded as jihadist outfits for Kashmir, and are members of the UJC that Salahuddin spearheads?

Why is Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) the political reincarnation of the LeT proscribed, and even its latest offshoot Tehreek-e-Azadi Jammu & Kashmir (TAJK) banned? The name literally translates into ‘movement for the freedom of Jammu and Kashmir’.

To top it all off Hafiz Saeed, the leader of LeT, JuD and TAJK, has been put under house arrest as well.

Similarly, the headquarters of the banned Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) was hunted down in Bahawalpur after last year’s Pathankot attack, with the chief Masood Azhar detained as well.

If Pakistan is officially, and openly, backing Kashmiri militant groups and their leaders like Syed Salahuddin, why the different treatment for Hafiz Saeed and Masood Azhar? What exactly is the difference between them?

If the Dawn Leaks episode and the report that caused a stir are anything to go by, this duplicitous stance on Kashmiri militant groups is actually evolving towards abandonment of jihadism in Kashmir – at least if the civilian leaders have completely their own way.

Hence, the outcry over Salahuddin being sanctioned by the US, is a clear façade at a time when anti-India is selling widely among the voters – not that there is a time when it’s not in demand – during the election year. It also is a strategy to make sure the likes of Hizb feel that Pakistan has their back, so that they don’t rebound towards Islamabad, just like the Taliban did in the west.

The fight for Kashmiris’ autonomy isn’t only something that Pakistan should wholeheartedly pursue – especially amidst violence by the Indian state authorities – it should be a cause of concern for states around the globe. But what has continued to ensure that the cause remains overlooked is the merger of jihadism with the fight for Kashmiris’ rights.

That particular policy, which gave birth to the ‘Good and Bad Taliban’, has not only proven to be detrimental for Kashmiris’ struggle, it has pulverised Pakistan as well. If Pakistan indeed is abandoning jihadism in Kashmir, it would prove to be on the right side of history when the issue is finally resolved. Because the denial of Kashmiri rights cannot go on forever.