Friday, 21 July 2017

The branding of Syed Salahuddin as global terrorist : Symbolic yet significant

The branding of Syed Salahuddin as global terrorist : Symbolic yet significant
Posted on 29/06/2017 by Dailyexcelsior
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain

Syed Salahuddin is not a figure unknown outside J&K in the rest of India but as it happens with most leaders of terrorist groups, knowledge about them always remains peripheral. So who exactly is the bearded Rasputin looking and cap wearing character who has just gained further notoriety by being designated a global terrorist by the US?  71 year old  Salahuddin, a Jamati to boot (member of the Jamat e Islami Kashmir – JeI), contested the J&K assembly elections of 1987 on the ticket of Muslim United Front and lost due to  alleged serious rigging in the Amirakadal constituency, forcing him to become a renegade. He joined the HM in 1989  and later became its supremo. HM became the militant face of the JeI(K) and Salahuddin virtually SAS Geelani’s pointsman. He moved across the LoC in 1990 and later was appointed the Chairman of the United Jihad Council (UJC) in 1994, a Muzaffarabad based conglomerate of initially 13 terrorist organizations focused on attempting to force the Indian security forces to evacuate J&K.
Syed Salahuddin has been one of the chief recipients of Pakistani largesse and support which has helped him usurp the position of the main rabble rouser and anti-India voice from among those Kashmiris who fled to and live in Pakistan. He had problems with various HM militant commanders from time to time in the last 25 years or so chief among them being Abdul Majeed Dar, who in Sep 2000 had a change of heart and wished to seek peace with India. Initially this was supported by Salahuddin but under Pakistani pressure he went back on his support. Dar was later assassinated in 2003 by unknown assailants but the hand of Salahuddin was known to have been involved. Interestingly Salahuddin as one of the chief surrogates of Pakistan’s ISI he has closely toed its line and received its guidance and extensive funding for terror activities in J&K; now largely restricted to the Valley sector alone. However, in 2008 with the introduction of informal Trans LoC trade different means of laundering money and funding Separatist organizations through the system of under invoicing were adopted. Now with the National Investigation Agency (NIA) actively involved in investigating the financial conduits of support to the Hurriyat and the militant groups these routes seemed destined for short life hereafter.
While the HM’s activities continue all over the Valley it is South and Central Kashmir where it is the dominant militant group. The changing nature of militancy from 2008 onwards had an effect on Salahuddin’s functioning style and level of control. Salahuddin initially took care to isolate the HM from the Pakistani LeT but relented over time. From 2014 his shroud of being a non-radical appeared to lift substantially as part of a strategy.   Attempting to link the separatist violence in the Indian state with pan-Islamic jihad in Syria and Iraq, Salahuddin declared that help from al-Qaeda, Taliban or any other like-minded group or country would be welcome. The attempt to give energy to the apparently flagging movement in 2014 through these utterances was due to the feelers he got from 2011 to 2014 of his waning control over HM. A new generation of restive Kashmiri youth was emerging. The Proxy War Generation born in or around 1989 is known to have grown under the shadow of the inevitable Indian hard power that was then needed. It started showing the first signs of its impatience with the manner in which Salahuddin ran the HM. It was the beginning of the deification of Burhan Wani and the introduction of technology into the militancy, the nature of which changed quite dramatically. From 2012 onwards North Kashmir, already suffering from the absence of Pakistani terrorist leaders after the killing of Abdullah Uni, progressively abdicated dominance of the separatist movement to South Kashmir. Burhan Wani’s social media driven violent movement made him the poster boy of the HM threatening Salahuddin’s hold and position. Burhan’s killing on 8 Jul 2016 became the trigger for the severe turbulence in South Kashmir and the emergence of a slew of leaders who tried to inherit his mantel. His successor Sabzar Bhat was recently killed in an encounter.
The recent interesting aspects related to Salahuddin’s position in HM and the nature of emerging threats will assist in ascertaining the extent of effect of the US action. Just recently Salahuddin condemned Zakir Musa and ejected him from the HM after the young militant leader threatened the beheading of the Hurriyat leaders if they did not link the Kashmiri struggle with the struggle for the Caliphate. Salahuddin’s need for the Hurriyat is evident from this action although he may not have minded following Musa’s ideological extremism. It would have gained greater support from the Pakistani establishment and make him quite indispensable. What is however, becoming quite evident is that the unity of the resistance moment in Kashmir is now progressively getting dented. Pakistan’s recent hard push to induct Pakistani terrorists across multiple points on the LoC is demonstrative of the fact it finds its control waning over the new generation Kashmiri terrorists.
Sensing some dilution in Pakistan’s support Salahuddin had in an interview in June 2012 claimed that Pakistan had been backing the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in its fight in Kashmir. He went on threaten that if this was withdrawn he would fight Pakistan internally. In September, 2016, Salahuddin 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. It was this statement which the US State Department pounced upon.
The timing by the US to declare Salahuddin a global terrorist was most apt; a few hours before the meeting between Mr Modi and President Trump. It brought a positive note to the expectations which were getting apprehensive by the moment. In the event the summit actually achieved much more than expected.
Although unconnected, it does look as if the Iranian Supreme Leader’s uncalled for Eid message urging Islamic nations to support the struggle of the Kashmiris against the Indian Army, could have instigated the US action. It is doubtful that any response could be as quick as this but the US action has actually been well thought through. It sends a message to the UN Security Council, especially China, about the designation of another notorious leader, Pakistan JeM’s Masood Azhar, which is hanging fire due to China’s intransigence. The US fully realizes its compulsions in not pressing home on Pakistan the implications of having similarly declared Jamat ud Dawa’s Hafiz Sayeed. A bounty of 10 million USD on his head has made scant difference in Pakistan’s handling of the master terrorist except once in a while incarceration to send messages of cooperation to the international community; post Trump inauguration this is exactly what happened when Sayeed was detained.
There was no compulsion on the part of the US to have acted as such in declaring Salahuddin a global terrorist. It realizes that Pakistan continues to remain strategically significant as far the future of Afghanistan is concerned. However, it also probably perceived that Pakistan’s strategic confidence and cockiness was increasing with the assured backing of China. A balance had to be drawn between pushing Pakistan into the China Russia fold and appeasing it on Afghanistan. A window was also being sought to send India positive signals without going overboard and without having to act much upon a decision. To that extent this action achieved everything. Most of all it set the tone for the Modi Trump Summit in a most appropriate way.
To expect anything further from the declaration and to attempt to force the US to go beyond may be naïve. President Trump has in one stroke further demonstrated his intent to energize the global war on terror and target all those organizations and entities which have the potential to be threats. The HM in its current avatar bears no threat to the US but its emerging potential as a radically oriented violent extremist group which is trying to adopt the model of other international terror groups, demands pre-emptive action. That it targets a US strategic partner is good reason too to declare its leader a global terrorist.
(Adapted from the original article by the author published in
The author is former GOC of Srinagar based 15 Corps)

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