Kashmir issue may impact Afghan talks, warns US report

Updated September 01, 2019

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In this file photo, Indian paramilitary soldiers close a street using barbwire in Srinagar in Indian occupied Kashmir. — AP
In this file photo, Indian paramilitary soldiers close a street using barbwire in Srinagar in Indian occupied Kashmir. — AP

WASHINGTON: The developing situation in India-held Kashmir might negatively impact the Afghan peace process, warns a US think tank as a congressional subcommittee scheduled a hearing to review the situation in the valley.

“Pakistan has been wary of Indian intentions in Afghanistan for decades, and this turn of events in Kashmir will make Islamabad that much more mistrusting of its neighbour,” warns the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in its report on Kashmir.

“Pakistan has been playing a significant role in the recent US-Afghan peace negotiations with the [Afghan] Taliban. The Kashmir issue may not only detract Pakistani resources and political will away from Afghanistan but potentially could also be used as leverage to persuade the United States to intervene with India,” the report adds.

The Afghan peace talks are in their final phase and the US and Taliban delegations are now holding their ninth meeting in Doha, Qatar, to finalise a deal. But reports from Doha indicate that Washington may fail to conclude a deal by Sept 1, as it had expected. The delay will further enhance Pakistan’s role in persuading the Taliban to stay engaged with the US.

Congress will review humanitarian situation in region

Washington also expects Islamabad to convince the Taliban to hold direct talks with the Afghan government. Taliban leaders view the Kabul government as a US puppet and refuse to hold direct talks with them.

On Friday afternoon, Congressman Brad Sherman, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asia announced that he will soon hold a hearing on human rights in South Asia. “The hearing will also focus on the Kashmir Valley, where many political activists have been arrested and daily life, the internet, and telephone communications have been interrupted,” he said. “The hearing will review the humanitarian situation in Kashmir. Are people able to get food, medical care, etc.?”

Mr Sherman has invited Acting Assistant Secretary Alice Wells, who oversees the US State Department’s policy on South Asia, Sam Brownback, the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, and other US State Department officials.

While US lawmakers are still trying to determine what caused the Indian government to revoke the guarantees that the Indian constitution provided to Kashmir, the CSIS report attributes it to the political ideology of the ruling BJP party.

The report notes that these guarantees “have long been an ideological sticking point for the BJP, who view India as a fundamentally Hindu nation and have qualms about a Muslim-majority state with special privileges”.

Kashmiri constituents

The congressman, who is known in Congress for his critical views on Pakistan, said his Kashmiri constituents convinced him to focus on Kashmir during this hearing. “I had an opportunity to meet with Americans from Kashmir Valley just a week ago in the San Fernando Valley, along with my colleague Congressman Andre Carson,” Mr Sherman said in a statement. “We heard stories of difficulties encountered by my constituents and others, and the fears they have for their loved ones. I look forward to learning more about human rights in Kashmir.”

Earlier in the week, Congressman Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, tweeted he had heard from his constituents that they were unable to reach their families in Kashmir. “Democracies like India should not be engaging in a communications blackout that has lasted over three weeks. We need de-escalation, not the hiding of what’s happening,” Mr Lieu said.

Even the Indian media acknowledged “the number of lawmakers commenting on Kashmir could possibly increase when [US] Congress, which is in recess, reconvenes in September”.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, tweeted she was “excited to see so many members joining us in calling attention to what is happening in Kashmir”. She encouraged US citizens to “continue to call your members and ask them to speak up. We expect openness from India”.

But those supporting the Kashmir cause in the US Congress also urged Kashmiris and Pakistanis to “ensure that militants do not get involved in this peaceful struggle”, as one of them said. They fear that the militancy could cause Kashmiris to lose whatever support they have in the United States.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2019