US still sees held Kashmir as disputed, Congress panel told

Updated October 23, 2019

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ANOTHER senior official looks on as US acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs Alice Wells speaks during the hearing of the Congress subcommittee.—AFP
ANOTHER senior official looks on as US acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs Alice Wells speaks during the hearing of the Congress subcommittee.—AFP

WASHINGTON: US Assistant Secretary of State Alice G. Wells informed a Congressional panel on Tuesday that India’s annexation of the occupied lands has not changed America’s position on held Kashmir, as it continues to consider it a disputed territory.

“We consider the Line of Control (LoC) a de facto line separating two parts of Kashmir,” said Ms Wells. “We recognise de facto administrations on both sides of LoC.”

She was responding to a question from the panel’s chairman, Congressman Brad Sherman who asked her if India’s Aug 5 decision to annex the occupied territories had also affected the US position on held Kashmir and if Washington now saw LoC as an international border. He also asked her if Washington still saw held Kashmir as a disputed territory.

“We do not take position on the type of administration either by India or Pakistan,” said Ms Wells when Mr Sherman asked her if the US agreed with India’s decision to merge held Kashmir.

In a written statement she shared with the panel, Ms Well said that the security situation in India-held Kashmir remained tense and clashes between youth and security forces were a regular occurrence.

The first official US assessment of the situation in the occupied valley also emphasised the need for resuming India-Pakistan dialogue but claimed that Islamabad’s alleged support to some terrorist groups had stalled the talks.

State Department raises concerns with India regarding detentions of residents and political leaders

Both points were included in a written policy statement Ms Wells shared with the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on Tuesday. The panel held the first Congressional hearing on the situation in Kashmir since Aug 5.

“The security situation in Kashmir remains tense. Clashes between youth and security forces are a regular occurrence,” the statement noted. “Several thousand people have been detained over the past two months” and “hundreds remain in detention — many without charges — under the Public Safety Act, which allows for administrative detention of up to two years.”

Stressing the need for resuming India-Pakistan dialogue, the policy paper noted: “Restarting a productive bilateral dialogue requires building trust, and the chief obstacle remains Pakistan’s continued support for extremist groups that engage in cross-border terrorism.”

While encouraging Pakistan to do more to curb terrorists, the department added: “We welcomed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent unambiguous statement that terrorists from Pakistan who carry out violence in Kashmir are enemies of both Kashmiris and Pakistan.”

Ms Wells informed the panel that Washington has closely monitored the situation in Jammu and Kashmir following India’s Aug 5 decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and create two new Union Territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

The United States supports India’s desire to increase economic development in Kashmir, but “remains concerned about the situation in the Valley, where daily life for the nearly eight million residents has been severely impacted since August 5.”

The statement noted that conditions in Jammu and Ladakh had improved, but “the Valley has not returned to normal”.

The State Department has raised concerns with the Indian government regarding the detentions of local residents and political leaders, including three former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, Ms Wells added.

“We have urged Indian authorities to respect human rights and restore full access to services, including internet and mobile networks,” she said, noting that while post-paid mobile service has been restored in the Valley, internet access remains intermittent.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2019