Six weeks after it designated Syed Salahuddin, a Pakistan-based but IHK-born and raised Kashmiri leader, as a global terrorist, the US has taken another disturbing step to politically and diplomatically align itself with India.
In a move seemingly designed to coincide with India’s Independence Day, the US State Department declared the Hizbul Mujahideen a Foreign Terrorist Organisation and a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.
The designations, according to the State Department, “seek to deny HM [Hizbul Mujahideen] the resources it needs to carry out terrorist attacks. Among other consequences, all of HM’s property and interests in property subject to US jurisdiction are blocked, and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with the group”.
Given that the Hizb is a separatist organisation focused on India-held Kashmir, it is not clear how disruptive the US actions will be in practice.
So why has the US taken this extravagant new step? A straightforward explanation has been offered in the Indian media itself. As argued in an opinion piece in The Indian Express, “For New Delhi, the US designation is strategic and political. While Pakistan has been pushing hard to project ‘Indian atrocities’ in the Kashmir Valley, the latest designation of the Hizbul, and the earlier US declaration of Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist (during Modi’s visit to the US) makes a political point at global level. It shows where the White House stands on the ongoing unrest in J&K; clearly, the Trump administration stands with New Delhi”.
In other words, the US is trying to help India defeat Pakistan’s rightful stance on the Kashmir dispute and divert the eyes of the world from the atrocities being committed by the Indian security forces against the Kashmiris. That is wrong, disturbing and dangerous. Once again, an inexperienced Trump administration appears to be choosing a path abroad that is destabilising and rooted in ignorance.
The myopia of the new US approach on IHK poses a significant diplomatic challenge for Pakistan. The country’s year-long efforts to win sympathy for the plight of the people of IHK, who continue to bravely protest in the face of violent repression by India, and emphasise the need for dialogue on the Kashmir dispute have not gained much support internationally.
The growing economic importance of India for many countries, and for the US India’s rivalry with China have helped Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pursue a ruthless strategy in IHK. But the cause of the people of Kashmir is just and Pakistan’s stance on the dispute principled.
An urgent diplomatic outreach to the US must be attempted. The Trump administration needs to understand Pakistan’s diplomatic red lines and how protecting and promoting the cause of the people of Kashmir is one of them.
Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2017