- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2017

The head of a violent, Kashmir-based terror group fighting for control over the hotly disputed territory in Southwest Asia is the latest addition to the State Department’s terror list.

Mohammad Yusuf Shah, who is also known as Syed Salahuddin, the head of Hizbul Mujahideen, was added to the U.S. terror list Monday. Under his command, the group has claimed credit for several attacks against government forces in Indian-controlled territories in Kashmir and Jammu, including one strike that ended in the deaths of 17 Indian soldiers and civilians in April 2014.

As tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi heated up over the Kashmir territory last September, the separatist leader pledged to undermine any effort at Kashmiri peace talks and vowed to turn the contested territory “into a graveyard for Indian forces,” a State Department statement announcing his addition to the terror list.

Joining the ranks of U.S.-designated terrorists that includes Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and senior leaders of the Haqqani Network, the Pakistani-based terror group responsible for several high-profile strikes in Afghanistan, Mr. Shah’s addition is being seen as a diplomatic win for India.

New Delhi has been lobbying Washington for his addition to the list amid growing violence in Kashmir and surrounding areas. The announcement of Mr. Shah’s addition to the terror list came hours before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with President Trump, which is the first visit by the Indian leader to Washington since Mr. Trump took office in January.

Shortly after Mr. Shah’s statements last year, Indian forces launched a series of blistering airstrikes against inside Kashmir, reportedly targeting extremist separatists groups along the line of control separating Indian and Pakistani-controlled territories in the area. It was the first direct military action taken inside Kashmir by India since a 2003 cease-fire pact was reached between the two countries.

India’s military response was designed to “hold Pakistan accountable … with the objective to make them stop giving support to terrorists” based in Kashmir, an top Indian government official said at the time. The official made clear that New Delhi was specifically targeting known terrorist organizations inside Kashmir either involved in or tied to the September attack on an the Indian military base in Uri.

“It is too early to tell what has been achieved” as a result of the airstrikes, the official acknowledged, while noting “the success of India’s counterterrorism operations is absolutely in the interest of the United States.”

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