Amendment to US finance bill urges India to lift Kashmir siege

Updated October 06, 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: A US Senate panel has attached an amendment to a finance bill that requires India to end its lockdown and curfew in held Kashmir and fully restore communications links to the occupied valley.

The amendment, attached to the Foreign Appropriations Act for 2020, was moved in the Senate Appropriations Committee, and is seen as the first step towards US legislative action against India over its Aug 5 annexation of the occupied lands.

The committee, while encouraging enhanced US engagement with India on issues of mutual interest, noted “with concern the current humanitarian crisis in Kashmir.”

And it called on the government of India to: “(1) fully restore telecommunications and Internet services; (2) lift its lockdown and curfew; and (3) release individuals detained pursuant to the government’s revocation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution.”

Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Karachi-born Democrat from Maryland, proposed the amendment, which seeks to highlight India’s the humanitarian situation in Kashmir. Senator Lindsey Graham, a key Republican leader known for his close ties to President Donald Trump, submitted the report in the Senate.

Senator Van Hollen also visited New Delhi this week as a part of a congressional delegation that discussed the Kashmir dispute and US-India relations with key Indian officials. On Friday, he told reporters in New Delhi that the Indian government had denied his request to visit to Kashmir to review the situation there.

He also said that the US Washington was “closely monitoring the humanitarian situation” in Kashmir. The House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on human rights in South Asia later this month, and Kashmir is expected to occupy much of the proceedings.

The document urging India to immediately reverse its unlawful actions in Kashmir was submitted on Sept. 26, a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to address the UN General Assembly.

In an interview to India’s The Hindu newspaper earlier this week, Senator Van Hollen said the amendment was “accepted unanimously by the bipartisan committee” and was “a strong expression of concern by the Senate about the situation in Kashmir.”

The amendment, he added, “sends the signal that we are closely monitoring the human rights situation there and would like to see the government of India take those concerns seriously.” He said that he had “hoped to share his concerns privately” with Prime Minister Modi but had not been able to meet him.

Mr Van Hollen also met India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in Washington last week and shared his concerns about Kashmir with him.

Senator Bob Menendez, who was also a part of the delegation that visited India this week, met India’s Commerce and Industries Minister Piyush Goyal this week in Delhi. Since Aug 5, both Senators have made public statements on the Kashmir situation.

The Hindu reported that Senator Van Hollen was refused permission to visit Srinagar because New Delhi was not allowing foreigners to visit the region.

An Indian official told the newspaper that “no diplomat or foreign journalist has yet been given clearance to visit Kashmir since the government’s decision on Article 370 on August 5.”

US lawmakers have since been urging President Trump to use his influence to end the humanitarian crisis in Kashmir.

One of them, Senator Bob Casey, said recently that India’s changes to the status of Jammu and Kashmir were a “drastic shift” from decades of precedent and policy.

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2019