The United States on Wednesday confirmed sanctions on Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) as a “foreign terrorist organization,” around three months after the Kashmir-based militant group’s leader Syed Salahuddin had been blacklisted by the State Department. And just like the decision in June, the Pakistani Foreign Office has condemned the U.S. action as being “detrimental to Kashmir’s freedom struggle.”
The U.S. upping the ante on Pakistan-based militant groups was expected following the election of President Donald Trump last year. And the United States’ tilt towards India has been increasingly visible since Trump’s address to the Riyadh Arab Islamic American summit in May, where he singled out India as a victim of terrorism in South Asia, despite the overwhelming Muslim presence at the summit, including Pakistan.
The Riyadh summit was immediately followed by the killing of HM commander Sabzar Bhatt, which resulted in a leadership crisis for the group that has culminated in Mohammed bin Qasim being ushered to the helm, after Yasin Yatoo’s death in an encounter and Zakir Musa’s defection into an al-Qaeda affiliated cell.
The writing, however, had been on the wall for Pakistan to cut ties with Hizb, not merely to forestall any sanctions on Islamabad over shielding Kashmir-bound militant groups, but also to help the Kashmiris’ fight for autonomy by ridding it of the jihadist label.
But as Washington continues to back the Indian stance in Kashmir, by blacklisting jihadist militancy in the valley as terrorism, the Pakistani Election Commission has been sanctioning yet another reincarnation of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) – a Kashmir-bound group banned in, among other countries, Pakistan itself.
The Milli Muslim League (MML) is a very conspicuous political endeavor of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), an already proscribed offshoot of the LeT, with the founder of all the affiliates Hafiz Saeed – the alleged Mumbai Attacks mastermind – also placed under house arrest in Pakistan since early this year.
To comprehend the backing that MML enjoys, one only needs to look into the timing of its birth and the loudly proclaimed ambitions. The MML plans to thwart the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) bid to regain the NA-120 constituency in Lahore – the seat vacated by ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
With Sharif removed, the security establishment is throwing its assets in the political arena to rub salt into the wounds, a little less than a year after the ruling PML-N’s confrontation with Army leadership over Hafiz Saeed had resulted in a national civil-military crisis following the leak of the story.
Hafiz Saeed’s LeT umbrella is a part of the jihadist conglomerate United Jihad Council (UJC), a group of Kashmir-centric militant organizations spearheaded by HM and led by Syed Salahuddin. With Hafiz Saeed’s MML mainstreamed, and the Foreign Office lip-synching to condemnations over U.S. sanctions, it is evident that jihadist groups abusing the Kashmir cause — the summit of the “good Taliban” logic – will continue to enjoy the establishment’s backing despite global sanctions.
It is hard to believe that this fixation with jihadism as foreign and security policy is a product of the military leadership still believing that it’s the best bet for securing their interests in the region, considering over half a century of failures, that have alienated both Afghanistan and Iran, along with damaging the Kashmiri freedom fight as well.
A more likely explanation is of a case of unflinching adherence to Islamist policymaking, with an eye still on facilitating the Taliban in Kabul, in a bid to ideologically and geostrategically unite the Middle East with Central and South Asia, which has been Islamabad’s quest since the 1970s.
But this self-contradicting ideological unity, based on a network of jihad, will soon face a rude awakening in the shape of Chinese influence on decision-making in Pakistan, especially since Beijing has already called out Islamabad over the jihadist spillover that has overlapped with the Uyghur militants leading the East Turkestan separatist movement.
Even so, Islamabad shouldn’t need Washington, or Beijing, to pull it back from continuing with a policy that directly resulted in deaths of over 80,000 citizens — if nothing else, the survival instinct inherent to any organism should’ve pushed Pakistan away from armed jihad.
It is bona fide insanity that foreign sanctions on groups that have harmed Pakistan and Kashmir, more than anything they might’ve done to India, continue to garner indifference, nay resistance, from Islamabad.