'Will continue to urge India to lift curfew, release all prisoners,' say US senators after visit to AJK
A high-level US Congressional delegation comprising Senators Chris Van Hollen and Maggie Hassan along with their staffers and US Chargé d'Affaires Ambassador Paul Jones visited Muzaffarabad on Sunday to "see the ground situation and gauge public sentiment" following the illegal actions taken by India in occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
According to a press release by the Foreign Office, the US Senators said they would "continue to urge India to lift the curfew and release all prisoners as a first step".
Maj Gen Amer gave the visiting delegation a detailed briefing on the current situation at the Line of Control (LoC).
The US delegation also met with Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) President Sardar Masood Khan and Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider.
According to a statement by PM Haider on Twitter, he told the two US senators that "Kashmir isn’t a territorial dispute between India n Pakistan but an issue of the future of the Kashmiri nation and it'll be settled by the principal party [Kashmiris] on the basis of right to self determination".
The AJK leadership expressed their gratitude to the US senators for visiting the region and "appreciated their support for the just cause of the people of Jammu and Kashmir", said the FO statement.
The US delegation was offered to "see first hand the vibrant and thriving Kashmiri community in Azad Kashmir" and was provided a historical background of the dispute, along with the "deteriorating situation" in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir territory after India's decision to strip its semi autonomous status on August 5.
The senators were apprised of the "prolonged curfew and suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms" since the move by the Indian government.
The AJK leaders expressed hope that with the first hand experience and information gathered, the US leaders would be better equipped to understand the "prevailing humanitarian crisis" in the disputed territory and as a result be able to better explain the ground realities to their colleagues in Capitol Hill and in the administration.
"It was noted that the Indian government’s policy of denial to allow neutral observers to visit the occupied Jammu and Kashmir had exposed specious India’s 'all is well' propaganda," said the Foreign Office in its statement.
President Masood Khan and Prime Minister Farooq Haider both urged the US leaders "to play their role in saving the people of occupied Jammu and Kashmir from India’s repressive brutal measures". The US leaders were also requested to continue "pressing India to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with UNSC resolutions".
"Among other things, they also shared the vision and priorities of AJK Government, which were focused on governance, rule of law and development," said the FO statement.
The US leaders "shared the human rights concerns" and "expressed their resolve to remain engaged for the resolution of the dispute", the statement concluded by saying.
Barred from visiting occupied Kashmir
Two days ago, Senator Chris Van Hollen was denied access to occupied Kashmir during his visit to India on trade and other issues.
He told reporters in New Delhi that the Indian government had denied his request to travel to occupied Kashmir.
The Maryland Democrat said 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 be a focus.
Sandeep Pandey, an education reformer, also said he and other activists were barred from leaving the airport in Srinagar, the region's main city, to where they had travelled on Friday for an informal fact-finding mission.
“We were held up and we don't know why it was done,” Pandey said at a news conference on Saturday in New Delhi.
The district magistrate restricted him from travelling beyond the arrivals lounge, citing a law that limits public gatherings, according to a copy of the order.
The 54-year-old intended “to organise protests” against the constitutional changes in Kashmir, according to the order.
Pandey denied the charge.