SALAHUDDIN: Pakistan’s Own Frankenstein’s Monster


Jammu and Kashmir and luring people to the path of jihad against India….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

The US declaring Pak-based Sayed Salahuddin of the Hizbul Mujahideen as an international terrorist was quoted as an important outcome of Indian Prime Minister Modi’s ‘chemistry’ with President Donald Trump. Neither Salahuddin’s ISI hosts in Muzaffarabad and Rawalpindi nor the Nawaz Sharif government in Islamabad is going to lose sleep over the new tag to Salahuddin.  What is more, Pakistan’s continuous export of terror to India will not take any hit.

The Kashmir-born politician turned militant honcho, bearded Salahuddin, was for long a useful ally of Pakistan in launching terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir and luring people to the path of jihad against India. For almost two decades, from the early 1980s, he served the interests of his ISI masters well. If the US had watched his activities in the 1980s, he should have been declared a global terrorist long time ago. The delay helped him enlarge his network of jihadi terrorists, with some of them entertaining dreams of making Kashmir a part of the ISIS- Caliphate.

It sounds strange that the US had branded his outfit a terror organisation some years ago, but not him.  Nonetheless, on June 26 the State Department neatly summed up the threat posed by Salahuddin, whose real name is Mohammad Yusuf Shah, saying he had vowed in September, 2016,“ 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 also rightly pointed out that under Salahuddin’s tenure as senior Hizbul Mujahideen leader, the group has claimed responsibility for several attacks, including the April 2014 explosives attack in Kashmir, which injured 17 people, and notified the international community that Salahuddin, “has committed, or poses a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism”.

In recent years when militancy in Kashmir has acquired an extreme Islamic character and attracts a crowd of young fanatics, men like Salahuddin may not look indispensable to the ISI. First, Hizbul commander Burhan Wani and after he was eliminated, his self-appointed successors are doing what Pakistan wants—keeping Kashmir on the boil without a break.

While any adverse US action against Salahuddin would not matter, perhaps it does have some symbolic significance. There have been several indications that the Trump administration is going to be more strict with its long-term ‘ally’ Pakistan, cutting both military and economic aid. Again, that will not weaken Pakistan’s capacity for mischief. If anything, Pakistan, fully backed by China, will feel emboldened to become more aggressive in needling and bleeding India.

For India, a meaningful test of the Trump-Modi ‘chemistry’ will come when the US overhauls its Afghan policy. So far, it has been based on the premise that Pakistan has the key to bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan, necessitating a policy of more carrots than sticks for Pakistan. It also meant the US favourably considering Pakistani opposition to Indian footprints in Afghanistan, much to the annoyance of New Delhi.

Going by reports in the Pakistani media, Washington has officially informed Islamabad that the United States would complete its policy review about Pakistan and some other important countries, towards the end of next month. Even before the Trump administration has choreographed its policy, quarters that matter in Pakistan are experiencing jitters.

This is clear from an editorial in The News International (July 2, 2017).  “The early signs are not promising”, the edit under the heading, “Reading American Policy”, said. “The Trump administration has been quick to accept Afghan allegations that Pakistan is sheltering the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, with a recent US Department of Defence report saying that both groups have freedom of action in the country. It has also ramped up drone strikes, already launching four this year, and has indicated that it may increase them further. The Trump foreign policy, to the degree that he can be said to have one, is to keep the US war machine humming and he has shown that he is willing to do that unilaterally, as with the drone strikes and bombings of Syria and Afghanistan. For Pakistan, then, the future seems to be one of less engagement and more one-sided action from the US.”

Another prominent Islamabad daily, Pakistan Today, echoed the same concerns, saying, “Trump seems serious about finally wrapping up the war in Afghanistan. From the looks of it, he’s betting on a troop surge to clean up the countryside and his usual no-nonsense approach to stem the alleged infiltration that has fed this insurgency for a decade and a half. That, of course, brings Pakistan into the equation. If, again, the reports are true, it’s unlikely he’s buying the argument we fed Obama and Bush; that we are the victim here. To keep Trump from putting his muscle where his mouth is, Pakistan might really have to ‘do more’ this time.”

“…Pakistan has much to worry about in the medium term. More drone strikes and a downgrade from major non-Nato ally are bad enough. But the cut in aid, if true, will hurt much more. Remember, this is a country that borrows, from international and local markets, even for its day-to-day functioning. That explains, in part, why holding back the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) not too long ago reverberated all the way to the federal budget,” the multi-edition daily said writing under the heading “Still major non-Nato ally? What the tea leaves say.” (July 2, 2017)

Clearly, Pakistan should be prepared for a hard line from Trump’s White House.

While thus emerging US-Pak relations are going to be a source of cheer for New Delhi, the unpredictability of President Donald Trump pose a question mark when it comes to US-China ties. In fact, India is not sure how exactly the US wishes to steer its relations with China. Before his election, Trump had projected himself as a severe critic of China. Once in office he did a somersault, especially on the ‘One China’ issue. The Trump administration seems to have endorsed China’s Belt Initiative or whatever it is called, but not cared to air its views on India’s objections which are based on sovereignty.

India may not like to act as an American bulwark against China, nor will it expect the US to come to India’s aid in the event of a Chinese attack. But India must know where does the US stand on Chinese claims on Indian territories and increasingly frequent Chinese provocations against India.

If the US can contest China’s claims on the South China Sea why cannot it lend some support to India in rejecting the Chinese claim on Indian territories which are based on the notion of reviving its medieval glory? It should be possible for the Indian Prime Minister to talk some geography in the midst of his ‘chemistry’ with the US president.