WASHINGTON: The United States, while still avoiding a public stance, has been quietly engaged with both India and Pakistan for promoting a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute, says the US State Department.
The Kashmir valley has been in the grip of widespread protests since July 8 when Indian security forces killed Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani. Indian forces have also killed dozens of protesters since last week.
Pakistan, as a UN-recognised party to the Kashmir dispute, strongly protested against Indian atrocities in the valley, declared Mr Wani a martyr and decided to observe a black day on July 19.
India rejected the protest and urged Pakistan “not to interfere in (its) internal affairs”.
The growing tension between the two nuclear neighbours alarmed world capitals, although Washington continued to avoid taking a public position on the situation, other than expressing concerns over the violence.
At a news briefing on Thursday afternoon, however, an American reporter pointed out that for the last three days, journalists had been trying to get the State Department’s reaction to the events in Kashmir but they only succeeded in getting an acknowledgement from the podium that “we have seen the reports of the violence and we are concerned about it”.
The valley has been in the grip of widespread protests since July 8 when Indian security forces killed Kashmiri leader Burhan Wani
When pressed for answers, the State Department spokesmen referred those questions to the Indian government, the journalist added.
He noted that the muted US response gave the impression that the US government believed this was purely an internal Indian matter and the United States was minding its own business and would not get involved.
“Is that a correct interpretation?” the journalist asked.
“No, I would say we’ve had discussions with both India and Pakistan on this issue,” said Elizabeth Trudeau, director of the State Department’s Press Office.
“Yes,” said Ms Trudeau when asked if the discussions were on these specific recent outbreak of violence.
“But there’s also been the question raised of why you’ve said that you’re concerned about the violence but you haven’t condemned the deaths of civilians,” the journalist asked.
“We are very concerned about the deaths of the protesters. I understand it’s over 30 now; that’s of grave concern to us. We continue to be in touch with the government of India. We’ve been in discussions with the government of Pakistan as well,” Ms Trudeau responded.
Asked if this was something that the United States would condemn, she said: “Well, we’d encourage all sides to make efforts to finding a peaceful resolution. The situation on the ground – from what we understand – is very complex, it remains fluid.”
Explaining why the US appeared reluctant to take a stronger position on this issue, the official said: “In terms of clarity on what’s going on, in terms of the protests as well as the security forces’ reaction, we’re still trying to get it.”
“While it may be taking place on territory that India claims or administers, does that absolve it of any kind of criticism for any abuses that may take place?” the journalist asked.
“Well, … we’re very concerned about this latest outbreak of violence,” Ms Trudeau said.
The discussion then moved to Hafiz Saeed’s latest statement that by not condemning the deaths in the recent violence, the US was giving India a free hand to use harsh tactics against demonstrators.
“We’re not going to respond to every statement like that. Obviously, we disagree with his premise,” Ms Trudeau said.
The journalist also recalled that Hafiz Saeed was a designated terrorist and the US government had put a $10 million reward for his capture and yet he was walking around in Pakistan openly and was giving interviews.
Ms Trudeau pointed out that Hafiz Saeed was listed as a terrorist by the UN Security Council’s Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee and was also on the US Rewards for Justice Programme. The US government also had designated him and his organisation as terrorists, she added.
“We remain very concerned by his activities as well as the statement, as you’ve highlighted,” Ms Trudeau said. “We have been very clear with the government of Pakistan that they must target and root out these extremist groups, all militant groups and Taliban.”
Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2016