US terms Hizbul a foreign terror outfit, seeks to choke its funding

A day after US President Trump called PM Narendra Modi to greet him on India’s Independence Day, the US has designated Pakistan-based Hizbul Mujahideen, responsible for attacks in J&K for the last three decades, as a “foreign terrorist organisation”.

The labelling of Hizbul as an FTO means it will face financial sanctions. The Trump administration’s previous decision to designate Hizbul chief Syed Salahuddin a “global terrorist” came just ahead of Modi’s meeting with the US President in Washington in June.

The announcement is also read as a sign of US-India proximity on strategic issues at a time when Delhi is locked in a tense face-off with China near the Sikkim- Tibet-Bhutan tri-junction and is facing a daily dose of threatening statements from Beijing. The action also indicates that the US does not support China’s efforts to protect terror groups sustained by Pakistan against international sanctions.

The US decision is seen as act of solidarity with India in its fight against terrorism and jihadi outfits operating out of Pakistan with the support of the Pakistani army and ISI. The decision, as in the case of Salahuddin, acknowledges India’s arguments that the Hizbul and its leaders are terrorists rather than “freedom fighters” as claimed by Pakistan and separatists in J&K.

The US state department said in a statement that it has designated “Hizbul Mujahideen – also known as Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, also known as HM – as a foreign terrorist organisation under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and as a specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) under section 1 (b) of executive order 13224″.

The Trump administration, which seems willing to act on its commitment on terrorism, said in its statement that declaring Hizbul Mujahideen a “foreign terrorist organisation” will have consequences like HM property and finances in the United States being blocked and a ban on American citizens engaging in any transactions with the group.

Hizbul is now in the same list as Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Boko Haram or other Pakistan-based anti-India terror outfits such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. India now has a strong chance to push its case for designating Syed Salahuddin and Hizbul Mujahideen as ‘global outfits’ in the United Nations Security Council.

Lately, India’s efforts to designate terrorists such a Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar operating from Pakistan enlisted at UN have been vetoed by China.

Hibzul recently named Mohammad Bin Qasim as its new chief in Kashmir after the death of its operations chief Yasin Yatoo. The outfit has been particularly involved in a series of attacks on security forces deployed in Jammu and Kashmir in last one-and-a-half years. HM commander Burhan Wani was killed last year after which violence, in the form of stone pelting, spiraled in the valley.

The US state department statement said that Hizbul was formed in 1989 and is one of the largest and oldest militant groups operating in Kashmir.

“Hizbul Mujahideen is led by specially designated global terrorist Mohammad Yusuf Shah, also known as Syed Salahuddin. Hizbul Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for several attacks, including the April 2014 explosives attack in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, which injured 17 people,” the statement said.

It added, “Today’s action notifies the US public and the international community that HM is a terrorist organisation.”

“Terrorism designations expose and isolate organisations and individuals, and deny them access to the US financial system. Moreover, designations can assist the law enforcement activities of US agencies and other governments,” it said.

Officials in Indian government were happy with the move. Some said they had been engaging with the United States to declare HM as a global outfit and pressure Pakistan to take action against him.

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