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Reports we are receiving from Kashmir are harrowing: US lawmakers

16 September, 2019

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WASHINGTON: “The reports we are receiving (from Kashmir) are harrowing with allegations including forced disappearances, mass detentions, rape and sexual assault, and the targeted detention of political, economic and social leaders,” says a letter signed by seven US lawmakers.

This is the third letter in less than a week that American congressmen and senators have written to the US administration, underlining their concern on the situation in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

In one of the letters, four key US Senators urged President Donald Trump to play a constructive role in helping resolve Kashmir and other underlying disputes between Pakistan and India — a role that would require him to mediate between South Asia’s two nuclear powers.

In a letter to US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Congresswoman Jayapal and Congressman James P. McGovern demanded that the international media and independent human rights observers immediately be allowed into Jammu and Kashmir to investigate reports of abuse.

This week, dozens of lawmakers expressed their concern on the situation in Kashmir, highlighting the human rights situation in the occupied valley. Some also warned that the conflict could spin out of control and cause yet another war between South Asia’s two nuclear-armed nations, India and Pakistan.

The US Congress was in summer recess when India announced its decision to annex Kashmir, imposing an unending curfew on its people and depriving them of their basic freedoms.

Yet, several lawmakers condemned the move and some also urged the Trump administration to use its influence to defuse tensions.

The condemnations, however, increased when the lawmakers returned to Washington this week for the autumn session. In less than a week, dozens of lawmakers took up this issue while a congressional panel on foreign affairs scheduled a hearing on Kashmir later this month. Other panels may also hold similar hearings and Kashmir is likely to come up in general debates on foreign affairs, as the new session unfolds.

The statements issued so far have three key points: strong condemnation of human rights violations, the need to avoid yet another India-Pakistan war and a more active US role in defusing tensions.

Yet another point raised in statements from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, is the need for Pakistan to ensure that militants do not take advantage of the situation.

At a recent diplomatic event, a congressional aide noted that “the Indian action has generated a lot of sympathy for the Kashmir on Capitol Hill. But all these sympathies will be lost if militants get involved”.

Although India opposes such mediation, there seems to be a growing realisation in Washington that disputes like Kashmir cannot be resolved without external help.

“We ask that you call upon Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi to fully restore telecommunications and internet services, lift the lockdown and curfew, and release Kashmiris detained pursuant to India’s revocation of Article 370,” the four senators wrote in their letter.

Another US Senator Bob Casey said India’s changes to the status of Jammu and Kashmir were a “drastic shift” from decades of precedent and policy which increases the potential for escalated conflict between India and Pakistan and raises serious concerns about the safety and security of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib said that recent Indian actions were “unacceptable” because they “strip Kashmiris of their human dignity”, put millions of people in danger, and seriously undermine democracy in India and Kashmir.

“People should not have to fear unjust detention, rape, or torture because of who they are and what they believe.”

Congresswoman Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, said she has met residents in her home state of Michigan “who cannot even call their families in Kashmir to ensure they are safe — a truly unimaginable situation as violence, militarisation, and occupation continues”.

She noted that Kashmir was already “one of the most militarised regions on Earth,” and India’s recent actions had created more instability and heightened the potential for accelerating violence.

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