WASHINGTON: The main human rights panel of the US Congress has reminded India that it can never give up supporting the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination because it seems difficult to implement it at this stage.

This unequivocal support for plebiscite echoed in the halls of Congress on Thursday — perhaps for the first time in decades — when the Tom Lantos Commission on Human Rights held a hearing on the post-Aug 5 situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

Haley Duschinski, Director of the Center for Law and Justice, Ohio University, raised the issue in her concluding remarks, reminding the panel: “For 70 years, Kashmiris have been denied the opportunity to determine their own political future through a plebiscite as promised by the UN Security Council resolutions.”

Her remarks annoyed Sunanda Vashist, an Indian-American columnist, who told the panel that the plebiscite could never happen because neither India, nor Pakistan — not even China — would vacate the territories under their control, as required.

“Good luck to this Congress getting China vacating Kashmir. If you can do that. So, plebiscite is off the table. It’s not going to happen ever,” she said. When some Kashmiri-Americans in the audience booed her, she added: “To everyone who is booing: Good luck getting Pakistan, and good luck getting China to vacate.”

Her remarks caused Congressman James McGovern, a Democrat who co-chaired the hearing with Republican Christopher Smith, to interrupt the witness and remind her that self-determination was one of the basic human rights.

“Ms Vashist, We can never give up on standing for the principle that people have a right to their own self-determination,” he said.

When Ms Vashist insisted that Kashmir’s only issue was cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, Congress­woman Sheila Jackson Lee told her that “to label an entire country with the acts of those who no one agrees with is a dangerous phenomenon”. Ms Jackson Lee is a member of both Indian and Pakistani caucuses in Congress.

“We stand with you and we stand with those who want the human rights dignity. I cannot deny you. I cannot deny them,” said the congresswoman as Chairman McGovern added that the charges of terrorism could not be used to “trample on basic freedoms” of an entire people”. “We got to figure out how to get out of this (blame game), Mr McGovern said.

Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2019