Hours before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington DC, the state department made a significant gesture of alliance towards the visiting head of state. It labelled Syed Salahuddin, supreme commander of the Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, a 'specially designated global terrorist'.
The decision, which was greeted warmly by India, imposes sanctions on Salahuddin for being an individual who has "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". By extension, it also prohibits American nationals from "engaging in transactions with Salahuddin", while blocking all of his "property and interests in property [that are] subject to United States jurisdiction".
India has every reason to rejoice at this diplomatic success, since Salahuddin has long been a thorn in its flesh, issuing regular threats to the Indian Army stationed in Jammu & Kashmir. Last year, he promised to turn the Kashmir Valley into a "graveyard for Indian forces", causing consternation in the establishment. A prime presence on the National Investigation Agency's 'most-wanted' list, Salahuddin links with separatists as well as Pakistan.
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The 71-year-old Salahuddin was born Syed Mohammed Yusuf Shah in Budgam district of Kashmir. His father was an employee with the postal department of the Indian government. Young Salahuddin wanted to study medicine, but decided to become a civil servant later. While in college, he was radicalised and became an Islamic teacher at a madrassa. He adopted his current name after Saladin, the 12th century Muslim leader who fought the crusades.
Father of five sons and two daughters, Salahuddin moved to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir around 1989, when he was arrested for holding violent protests and also released. His four sons, reportedly, hold government jobs in India.
In 1987, Salahuddin fought as a candidate for the Muslim United Front for the Amira Kadal constituency in the assembly elections. Separatist leader Yasin Malik was his polling agent. He was, however, defeated in the polls to National Conference candidate Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah, allegedly due to massive rigging. Soon after, he joined the Hizbul Mujahideen.
Salahuddin also leads the United Jihad Council, which has been maintaining active terror outfits in Jammu & Kashmir since the mid-1990s. Last year he vowed to block any peaceful resolution to the Kashmir conflict and hailed Burhan Wani as a martyr after he was killed in a clash with the security forces. He is also said to have contacts with Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
Last year at a rally in Lahore, Salahuddin had openly warned Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh against visiting Islamabad for the SAARC meeting of home ministers. In 2012, he had also threatened Pakistan with dire consequences, including civil war, should it stop backing the jihadis in Kashmir, who, Salahuddin said, were fighting Pakistan's war.
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