US senators concerned over rights abuses in held Kashmir

October 07, 2019

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MUZAFFARABAD: AJK President Masood Khan meets a delegation of the US Congress, comprising Senators Christopher J. Van Hollen and Margaret C. Hassan, on Sunday.—INP
MUZAFFARABAD: AJK President Masood Khan meets a delegation of the US Congress, comprising Senators Christopher J. Van Hollen and Margaret C. Hassan, on Sunday.—INP

MUZAFFARABAD: A high-level Congressional delegation of the United States flew into the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) capital on Sunday to see the ground situation and gauge public sentiment following the Aug 5 Indian actions in held Jammu and Kashmir, officials said.

During the visit, Senators Christopher J. Van Hollen and Margaret C. Hassan, along with their staffers and US Ambassador Paul Jones, called on AJK President Sardar Masood Khan and Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider.

They attended a briefing by a senior army official on the current situation along the Line of Control (LoC), said the AJK government and the ministry of foreign affairs in separate statements.

Delegation meets AJK leaders, attends briefing on situation along LoC

According to the FO statement, the US Senators said they shared human rights concerns and would continue to urge India to lift the curfew and release all prisoners as a first step.

They also expressed their resolve to remain engaged for the resolution of the dispute.

Earlier, in their separate meetings, President Khan and Prime Minister Haider expressed gratitude to the two senators for their visit and appreciated their support for the just cause of Kashmiri people.

While inviting them to see for themselves the vibrant and thriving Kashmiri community in AJK, they also apprised the US delegation of the historical background of the longstanding dispute and the deteriorating situation in the India-held territory in the wake of a prolonged curfew and suppression of fundamental rights and freedoms after Aug 5.

Both leaders expressed the hope that the delegation’s visit to AJK would help them have first-hand information and under­standing of the humanitarian crisis in occupied Jammu and Kashmir and explain the ground situation to their colleagues on Capitol Hill and in the administration upon their return home.

They both urged the US senators to play their role in saving the people of occupied Jammu and Kashmir from India’s brutal measures and press India to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.

Among other things, they also shared the vision and priorities of the AJK government, governance, the rule of law and development.

“It was noted that the Indian government’s policy of denial to allow neutral observers to visit occupied Jammu and Kashmir had exposed India’s ‘all is well’ propaganda,” the FO statement said.

President Khan warned that if the international community did not play its role and instead continued to appease India in view of its economic and political interests, a major global human tragedy like the one in the last century could once again take place.

While rejecting Indian allegations that “500 terrorists are set to infiltrate occupied Kashmir” from the liberated territory, he told visitors that AJK people supported the struggle of their brethren in occupied Kashmir through peaceful and political means.

“Neither there is any terrorism nor is any kind of terrorist training being provided to anyone in Azad Kashmir,” the AJK president said, adding that India had sealed off the LoC with modern electronic equipment and barbed wires, making even wildlife crossing next to impossible let alone human movement.

Mr Haider told the delegation that Kashmir was not a territorial dispute between Pakistan and India, but the issue of right to self-determination of an entire [Kashmiri] nation.

This issue will be settled neither by India nor by Pakistan, but by the principal party, on the basis of right to self-determination, as enshrined in over a dozen UN Security Council resolutions.

Mr Haider maintained that calling for an end to human rights abuses in India-occupied Kashmir was fine, but until and unless the world placed emphasis on grant of right to self-determination to the Kashmiris, the situation in South Asia would remain volatile.

He said the US had never been a colonial power, and instead it had always supported freedom movements.

“This [South Asian] region is home to two nuclear powers. It cannot afford any war, which cannot be ruled out in the presence of unresolved Kashmir issue,” he said.

The US senators told the AJK president that a Senate committee had already expressed its grave concern over human rights trampling, communication blackout and arrests of political leaders and workers in occupied Kashmir.

On Saturday, Senator Hollen had told reporters in New Delhi that Washington was “closely monitoring the humanitarian situation” in the disputed Himalayan region.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on human rights in South Asia later this month and the Kashmir issue is expected to figure prominently in the deliberations, he had said.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2019