Syed Salahuddin led a protest rally before addressing a press conference in Muzafarabad, capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, July 1, 2017. (VOA photo)
Syed Salahuddin led a protest rally before addressing a press conference in Muzafarabad, capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, July 1, 2017. (VOA photo)

ISLAMABAD - The leader of a prominent Kashmir rebel group has rejected U.S. sanctions and vowed to continue fighting until the disputed Himalayan region is “liberated from India.”

Syed Salahuddin, who operates from the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir, said at a news conference Saturday that Washington’s decision will not impact activities of his Hizbul Mujahideen, the main militant organization fighting New Delhi’s rule in the divided territory.

The State Department on Monday (June 26) designated the 71-year-old militant commander as a “global terrorist.” The action came hours before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his official U.S. visit.

“This announcement has been made in violation of international laws and [United Nations] resolutions. This is an attempt by the Trump administration to appease Narendra Modi,” Salahuddin said.

He went on to say that “freedom fighters” only target Indian security forces and have not conducted any operations outside Kashmir.

“This [U.S. decision], God willing, has strengthened our resolve and we will continue our struggle with more energy,” Salahuddin asserted.
He added that American representatives, in their speeches at U.N. meetings, repeatedly acknowledged Kashmiris’ struggle for "freedom" and did not endorse what President Donald Trump has done.

The rebel chief vowed to legally counter the U.S. decision and urged Pakistan to declare a diplomatic offensive against “nefarious Indian designs” of trying to link the freedom movement in Kashmir to terrorism. He added that terrorist groups like Islamic State and al-Qaida do not exist in Kashmir nor will they have any place there.

The State Department, in its announcement, said that the militant commander committed, or poses "a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States."

It went on to say that 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.”

FILE - A vehicle carrying Syed Salahuddin, the lea
A vehicle carrying Syed Salahuddin, the top leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen, is escorted by his supporters, arrives for a press conference in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani controlled Kashmir, Saturday, July 1, 2017.

Saturday Salahuddin again called for the United Nations to implement its longstanding resolutions to allow Kashmiris to exercise their right to vote on independence or merging with Pakistan.
Islamabad also has criticized the United States for declaring Salahuddin a global terrorist and defended militants fighting New Delhi’s rule in Kashmir as a “legitimate” struggle for freedom.

"The 70-year-old indigenous struggle of Kashmiris in the Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir remains legitimate. The designation of individuals supporting the Kashmiri right to self-determination as terrorists is completely unjustified,” according to the Pakistani foreign ministry.

New Delhi, which hailed Monday’s decision by Washington, accuses Islamabad of fueling the 28-year-old armed rebellion in the Muslim-majority Kashmir, accusations Pakistan rejects.

India controls two-thirds of Kashmir while Pakistan controls the rest. The nuclear-armed rivals claim the Himalayan region in its entirety and have fought two of their three wars over it.

Salahuddin on Monday called for a week of resistance, including two days of strikes starting July 8, the anniversary of last year’s killing of young rebel leader Burhan Wani by Indian security forces.

Wani's death provoked violent anti-India protests across the region, prompting Indian security forces to use force to suppress the uprising. The slain commander was a key member of Salahuddin’s group and is credited with reinvigorating the recent wave of militancy in Kashmir.

Ekram Shinwari in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.