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US refuses to back Modi’s claims

August 17, 2016

WASHINGTON: The United States continues to view the Kashmir issue as a dispute that needs to be settled by both India and Pakistan, says the US State Department, while distancing itself from India’s claims over Azad Kashmir.

In his Independence Day speech on Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to address the ongoing military oppression in India-held Kashmir.

Instead, he accused Islamabad of suppressing the people of Azad Kashmir and Balochistan, saying that “Pakistan shall have to answer to the world” for the alleged atrocities committed against the people in these regions.

At a Monday afternoon news briefing, an Indian journalist asked Elizabeth Trudeau, director of the US State Department Press Office, to address Mr Modi’s comments. The journalist also claimed that the people of Azad Kashmir were “all Indians,” and said to the State Department official that the “time has come now to speak out” for those people as they were not allowed to express their views.

The journalist also reminded the State Department official that the Indian prime minister had directed his ministry of foreign affairs to raise this issue at the international level.

“I wouldn’t speak on Mr Modi’s comments. That would be for him to speak to,” said Ms Trudeau. “Our position, as you well know, on Kashmir has not changed. The pace, the scope, the character of any discussions on Kashmir is for the two sides to determine.”

The US official also urged Pakistan and India to work jointly to resolve this issue, which Pakistan warns has the potential to lead to yet another war between South Asia’s two nuclear-armed states. “We support any and all positive steps that India and Pakistan can take to forge closer relations,” she said.

Instead of addressing the alleged Pakistani atrocities in Azad Kashmir, Ms Trudeau referred to clashes between civilian demonstrators and Indian forces in the Kashmir Valley and encouraged “all sides” to seek a peaceful solution.

“We’re aware of the clashes. We remain concerned about the violence, and we encourage all sides to make efforts to finding a peaceful resolution,” she said.

Noting that she was referring to clashes in India-held Kashmir, the journalist asked: “Is this the time now for the State Department to look into that part of Kashmir also?”

“I would leave our comments on Kashmir where I left them. We do remain concerned about the violence,” Ms Trudeau replied.

Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2016