WASHINGTON: The president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir is hopeful that India’s clampdown in occupied Kashmir has reached a turning point — bringing US pressure.
Sardar Masood Khan was visiting Washington to meet lawmakers, media and experts after India on Aug 5 rescinded autonomy of the occupied territory and sharply curtailed ordinary people’s communications.
“There is a palpable shift in the United States,” President Khan said.
“The pro-India sentiment here in the United States prior to the August 5 steps was very strong because of the strong economic and strategic ties between the United States and India. But this is changing fast,” he said.
As evidence, he pointed to how a number of lawmakers have criticised the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies in occupied Kashmir.
This week, 14 Democrats led by Representative Pramila Jayapal urged Modi to restore internet and cellular service for Kashmiris, saying in a letter that US residents had been unable to reach relatives.
President Donald Trump has literally rallied behind Modi, joining him at a mass gathering last month in Houston, but the State Department has asked India to bring back communications and release detained political leaders.
Mr Khan said he was also grateful to US and international media, which have faced restrictions in India-held Kashmir.
“The media has after decades spoken up for the people of Jammu and Kashmir and not the Indian establishment, so that’s a major change,” he said.
President Masood Khan said that youths in Azad Kashmir were “seething with anger” and wanted to “fight for the rights of their brothers and sisters”. “While we respect their sentiments and we share their sentiments, we do not want any unregulated activity across the Line of Control,” he said.
Mr Khan accused India of following an Israeli model, encouraging Hindus to settle in held Kashmir and “reduce the Kashmiri or Muslim majority in the state”. But he said he recognised the rights of Kashmir’s historic Hindu community, known as Pandits. “They should be brought back, they should be reintegrated into the mainstream and they should be given all sorts of guarantees for their protection — physical protection and protection of their rights,” President Khan said.
A former ambassador of Pakistan to Beijing, Mr Khan hailed the role of China which arranged a rare Security Council meeting on Kashmir in August.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also mentioned Kashmir in his address to the United Nations, calling for neither side to “unilaterally change the status quo”.
Published in Dawn, October 2nd , 2019