On June 26, a US State Department notification declared Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) leader Muhammad Yusuf Shah, also known as Syed Salahuddin, a “specially designated global terrorist”. This has largely been interpreted as a “goodwill” gesture towards the visiting Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who is himself accused of being a “facilitator” for the organised killing of thousands during the anti-Muslim riots in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002.
The statement that announced the designation read, “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.’ Under Salahuddin’s tenure as senior HM leader, the group has claimed responsibility for several attacks, including the April 2014 explosives attack in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, which injured 17 people.”
This action came under Section 1(b) of the Executive Order 13224, which imposes sanctions on foreign persons who have committed, or pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism that threaten the security of US nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States. The Executive Order 13224 was signed by President George Bush on September 23, 2001, which equips the government with a powerful tool to impede terrorist funding and is considered a part of the US commitment to lead international efforts to terminate terrorist activities. The consequences of this designation include the fact that US citizens are prohibited from engaging in transactions with Salahuddin. His property and financial interests that are subject to the US jurisdiction are blocked.
Historically, the designation of an individual or an organisation as terrorist by the US has not always been in line with international realities, but rather it has been employed as a diplomacy tool to win allies and interests of the US. For instance, the African National Congress (ANC) led by Nelson Mandela was designated a terrorist organisation by the State Department, facilitating the South African government in its harsh dealing with the anti-apartheid movement. Mandela was elected president of South Africa in 1994 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a year earlier.
In a similar vein, Hezbollah of Lebanon is remembered as the organisation that brought an end to the policy of “boots on the ground” for the US when it bombed US facilities in Lebanon and killed more than 250 soldiers. The labeling of this force as terrorist had little impact on the ground as Hezbollah gained a strong foothold in mainstream politics and is now part of a political alliance that holds more than 50 seats in the 128-member Lebanese parliament.
Likewise, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) led by Yasser Arafat was placed on the list of terrorist organisations for years, only to be taken off in 1994, the same year Arafat was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He served as the most prominent leader of the Palestinian National Authority from 1994 to 2004.
Let us also not forget the support rendered by the US to Islamise the resistance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and later shifting the blame on others for the increased radicalisation among Muslims and mistrust for Americans.
Nonetheless, this action of the State Department comes at a time when the indigenous movement for freedom and autonomy in Indian-held Kashmir has been gaining momentum, despite a brutal and oppressive approach of the occupying forces. It also coincides with a recently released survey by the Pew Research Centre which underscores the overall drop in the favourability rating of the US at the global level.
The aforementioned survey was conducted in 37 countries and it shows that the global standing of the US has changed markedly in a short period of time. It notes that out of more than half of the countries surveyed, positive opinions of the US experienced a double-digit drop in 2017. In 10 countries, the recently recorded majority of positive views have changed to minority. For instance, the US favourability in Mexico has been sliced by half, from 66 per cent to 30 per cent. In 14 countries, the decline has been significant but still above 50 per cent, while in three countries where the US has not enjoyed majority support for some time, things have further deteriorated. For example, the favourability of the US in Turkey was already at 29 per cent in 2015 and it has plummeted by almost 11 points to 18 per cent. The favourability for the US has also seen a drop in France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the UK with a mean of 46 per cent positive and 52 per cent negative assessment.
The drop in favourability ratings for the US, the survey reports, is widespread. “The share of the public with a positive view of the US has plummeted in a diverse set of countries from Latin America, North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.”
The designation of Salahuddin as a terrorist is the latest addition to examples of America’s self-centered policies that only serves to embolden oppressors and contribute to its decline in the comity of nations. To remind our American friends, it is the same Modi that the US is trying to please, who was banned from travelling to the US in 2005 under the International Religious Freedom Act provision of the US Immigration and Nationality Act that holds those directly responsible for severe violations of religious freedom ineligible to visit the US.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2017.