Kashmiri militant leader rejects global terrorist label


Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin has dismissed the U.S.'s decision to designate him as a global terrorist, calling it a "symbolic move" aimed at appeasing India.

Hizbul Mujahideen is one of the most powerful militant groups fighting against Indian rule in Jammu Kashmir.

Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is split between areas of Indian and Pakistani control but claimed in full by both.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, Salahuddin said he continued to see himself as a freedom fighter and vowed to continue his struggle in Jammu Kashmir despite being labelled a global terrorist by the U.S.

The U.S. State Department made the declaration in late June during an official visit to the U.S. by Indian Premier Narendra Modi.

"It will have no impact whatsoever on the freedom struggle of Kashmiris because it is a unilateral decision of the Trump administration and has no backing of the United Nations," the 70-year-old militant leader said.

"This is completely ironic and unjustified and this is nothing more than a kickback to Mr. Modi, who is the worst type of terrorist for the U.S. and who should not be granted even a visa for his involvement in the massacre of Muslims in Ahmadabad in 2002."

Modi, who was Gujarat chief minister at the time of the killings, has been criticized for failing to intervene in anti-Muslim riots that left more than 1,000 dead.

Salahuddin said his designation as a "terrorist" was "just a symbolic move to appease the Indian government".

He added: "The State Department cannot quote even a single example in the 42-year career of Salahuddin that can be categorized as a terrorist act. I challenge them to do that."

He said that by designating him as terrorist, Trump had ridiculed the values, constitution and the history of the U.S.

"I just want to remind Mr. Trump that the first president of his country, George Washington, had led an armed struggle against the then British Empire. And so did [20th century Indian freedom fighters] Subhas Chandra Bose and Bhagat Singh.

- Changing balance of power

"If they are not known as terrorists then how come Salahuddin and other Kashmiri freedom fighters can be described as terrorists?"

While the U.S. had designated him as a global terrorist, it had also declared that there had been no change in its Kashmir policy, he added.

"This is a hypocritical approach. There is a general feeling among Kashmiris that the United States has never been serious and sincere about their struggle."

Commenting on Pakistan's reaction to the U.S. move -- Islamabad condemned the decision as unjust -- Salahuddin said it was "spontaneous" and "befitting".

He also rejected the suggestion that the U.S. decision was a diplomatic victory of India.

"It is no victory at all because it will create no impact or affect our struggle," he said. "It will continue, more vigorously, Inshallah."

Salahuddin believes he has been made a scapegoat following political and regional realignments.

"The balance of power is changing," he told Anadolu Agency. "New relations are coming into existence. India and the U.S. are getting closer against China, whereas Pakistan is getting closer to China, and with Russia as well.

"U.S. policies revolve only around its interests, which change from time to time. Its present interest is to support India against China. That is why it is trying to appease India by taking such irrational decisions."

Salahuddin, whose real name is Syed Yousaf Shah, insisted that he and "all other Kashmiri fighters are legitimate freedom fighters and will continue the freedom struggle despite this unjust and irrational decision".

He recalled that he and his followers chose the path of an armed struggle against what he called Indian occupation after a 42-year long journey of peaceful struggle.

The international community, including the UN had failed to implement its promises on Kashmir, Salahuddin added.

- No global agenda

"Therefore, our freedom struggle is a legitimate freedom struggle," he said.

"We have no global agenda -- our movement is strictly confined to the liberation of Jammu and Kashmir and against occupational forces. Nothing less, nothing more."

He said his Hizbul Mujahideen group maintained the capability to "hit" India even outside Kashmir but "we never did that."

Salahuddin added: "We have certain principles and a strict code of conduct, which bar us from operating outside the [Indian] held valley."

He also condemned Monday's armed attack on Hindu pilgrims in Jammu Kashmir and accused India of exploiting the incident to defame the freedom movement by calling it a militant attack.

Jammu Kashmir is the only state on the Indian sub-continent where there has been a communal harmony and Hindu-Muslim brotherhood, he said.

"This is a well-designed plan by Indian intelligence agencies to stigmatize the Kashmiri freedom movement."

The Hizbul Mujahideen chief also hailed the people of Turkey for supporting the freedom struggle of Kashmiris and said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had always supported the just struggle of Kashmir and Palestine.

"We are satisfied with the role of Turkey vis-a-vis resolution of Kashmir dispute," he said. "Kashmiris are very thankful to Turkish people and the government for their unconditional support."

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they were partitioned in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. Resistance groups in Jammu Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence or unification with neighboring Pakistan.

More than 70,000 people have reportedly been killed in the conflict since 1989 and India maintains more than half a million troops in the disputed region.

New Delhi accuses Islamabad of patronizing the decades-long armed struggle in the valley while Pakistan says it only provides moral and political support to the freedom movement.

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