The US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) is an umbrella group of America’s top Islamist organizations, including the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim American Society (MAS), the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), and American Muslims for Palestine.
It met last month with Sardar Masood Khan, president of “Azad,” or “Free” Jammu and Kashmir. Khan gave “a firsthand account of the humanitarian crisis and the current political situation” in Indian Jammu and Kashmir, according to an Oct. 1 USCMO news release.
Tensions in the Himalayan Muslim-majority region flared in August after India’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) voided a “temporary” constitutional provision that gave Jammu and Kashmir special autonomous powers to make its own laws outside of defense, foreign affairs, finance, and communications. The action divided the state into two federally-administered territories that will now be governed by New Delhi.
Because Muslims are in a majority in Jammu and Kashmir, Islamists view it as part of the global Muslim ummah, or community, whose rights cannot be guaranteed in Hindu-dominated India. But India’s largest Muslim organization has endorsed the move.
Consequently, victimization narratives pushed by Islamists in Palestine, Bosnia, Chechnya, and other places are now being reinforced in Jammu and Kashmir.
It is in that context that Khan came to Washington, D.C. last month to meet with U.S. lawmakers, analysts, and journalists to update them on “India’s shocking and internationally illegally massive military occupation and political annexation of Kashmir.”
As America’s leading Islamist umbrella organization, USCMO speaks with one voice on the Kashmir issue, even as members expressed similar sentiment independently. Soon after the Indian action, for instance, USCMO member organizations separately condemned the move, but USCMO also issued a press release on behalf of the larger network calling on the American Muslim community “to support the Kashmiri issue in every aspect possible,” including lobbying White House and congressional representatives and writing to media outlets.
“We assured President Khan of USCMO’s full support for the self determination of the Jammu-Kashmir people and their continued demands for the government of India to immediately lift its internationally illegal communication lockdown and siege of Jammu-Kashmir,” USCMO Secretary General Oussama Jammal said in the USCMO release.
India has defended the Kashmir move, saying the “temporary” provision enacted in 1950 had fueled cross-border terrorism and created a milieu for corrupt and nepotistic rule in the state. It also blocked residents from taking advantage of the robust social and economic growth experienced by the rest of the country. Pakistan’s Islamist leadership, however, castigated the status change as “illegal” and warned of a “blood bath” in Kashmir once a curfew imposed after the Indian action was lifted.
A news release issued a few days after the Indian move, for example, described the action as “nothing short of a crisis for the entire humanity. The Indian atrocities continue unabated. Every week dozens of Kashmiris are losing their lives.”
USCMO also organized protests against the “massive military and paramilitary invasion of Kashmir,” including in front of the Indian Embassy in Washington. India did send an additional 35,000 security forces to the former state in advance of the new policy. Jammu and Kashmir already had a heavy military presence to counter a Pakistan-backed insurrection that began in 1989 and has claimed thousands of lives.
The tension dates back to Pakistan’s founding.
During partition of the subcontinent after British rule ended in the region in 1947, several hundred independent kingdoms which were ruled by native princes and closely allied with British India had to choose whether to be part of India or Pakistan. The Hindu ruler of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir opted for independence. But after an invasion by Pakistan-backed tribal invaders, he signed an Instrument of Accession to become part of India. Pakistan disputes this accession and claims the state in its entirety.
The USCMO has lobbied the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – an organization representing 57 Muslim majority nations – to “exert maximal pressure on the Indian government to lift its lockdown on Kashmir” and “commit to massive humanitarian assistance for the people of Kashmir.” USCMO representatives also met with State Department and United Nations officials to spotlight the “dire humanitarian crisis” in Jammu and Kashmir.
While the United States is concerned about the “widespread detentions” and “restrictions on the residents of Jammu and Kashmir” following the Indian action, “Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi made a commitment that the recent changes to the status of Kashmir will improve the lives of the Kashmiri people, and we look to him to uphold this promise,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells.
Pakistan’s appeals to “internationalize” the issue have thus far failed, and the United Nations Security Council continues to stand by India’s position that the issue be resolved through negotiations.
Recent Indian media reports claim restrictions have been lifted in 99 percent of Jammu and Kashmir.
Security continues to remain a major challenge because of Pakistani terrorists infiltrating to launch attacks in Jammu and Kashmir. Earlier this month, terrorists suspected to belong to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist group gunned down five migrant workers and critically injured another in south Kashmir. A grenade attack Nov. 4 in the summer capital Srinagar killed one person and injured 35 others.
But Pakistan is using emissaries like Khan to downplay the terror threat from Pakistan and instead conjure up exaggerated claims of a “deteriorating humanitarian crisis” in the region.
Khan, a former Pakistani diplomat born in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, has pushed the Pakistani narrative on Kashmir for several years in meetings with American lawmakers, media, and think tanks..
He has called Pakistan-trained Kashmiri jihadists “freedom fighters.”
Soon after the 2017 U.S. terrorist designation of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) and its leader Syed Salahuddin, Khan reportedly said, “Ignoring the genocide of Kashmiris by Indian army and declaring freedom fighters as terrorists is a criminal departure from international humanitarian and democratic norms by the US.”
There is no genocide in Kashmir. But under Salahuddin’s leadership, HM has launched several terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir. During a 2012 jihadist recruitment and fundraising drive in Rawalipindi, Pakistan, Salahuddin claimed that “Pakistan is the target of the US-Israeli nexus. Our fighters are defending Pakistan at a time when its geographical boundaries, its security and Islamic identity are at risk.”
“We are fighting in Kashmir. It doesn’t matter to is if we are labeled terrorists. We are proud to be called terrorists for fighting the US and its allies in Afghanistan,” he added.
ICNA has been described as “openly affiliated” with the Sunni revivalist movement Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). Based in Queens, N.Y., ICNA strongly advocates for Kashmiri self-determination, and its conventions feature high-profile U.S.-based Kashmiri separatist leaders and activists. The conventions excoriate India for “state-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir.”
In fact, soon after the Aug. 5 action, ICNA featured an online video interview with convicted Pakistani spy and lobbyist Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai and another Kashmiri American activist, Imtiaz Khan, in which they described Kashmir as a “hot tinderbox” and the “most dangerous place in the world.”
Zahid Bukhari, ICNA’s former president who was part of the USCMO delegation, has promoted the JI on his Facebook page. In a 2013 Facebook post, for example, Bukhari re-posted a photo from the 1979 funeral prayers for JI founder and Islamist ideologue Maulana Syed Abdul Ala Maududi in the Pakistani city of Lahore that had been posted earlier on the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan Facebook account.
Another member of the delegation, HHRD chairman Mohsin Ansari, earlier described his experience at a 2015 JI retreat in the UK as “heartwarming.” He also alluded to JI members convicted of war crimes during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of liberation as “heroes” who the “Pakistani nation will remember…for centuries to come.”
American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) Executive Director Osama Abu Irshaid and USCMO secretary general Oussama Jamal also were part of the delegation that met with Khan. AMP is being sued in Chicago federal court for allegedly serving as “alter egos and/or successors” of a Hamas-support network that was held liable for the death of an American teen by Hamas terrorists in 1996.
Abu-Irshaid has defended Hamas leaders and openly supports the terrorist group in social media posts.
“Indian violations against the Muslims of Kashmir shout to the sky,” he wrote in a Facebook post on the Oct. 1 meeting, “but unfortunately they do not have extensive media coverage, neither in the West nor in the Arab world.” He praised the Islamist leadership of Turkey and Pakistan for raising the Kashmir issue at the United Nations and rebuked Saudi Arabia and the UAE for hosting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “with the reception of heroes.”
USCMO’s willingness to push Khan’s false and exaggerated rhetoric on Kashmir is in line with its key mission to peddle Islamist narratives and lobby causes that favor the Muslim ummah or community over the nation state.