Kashmiri demands echo in US Congress panel

Updated 18 Nov 2019


Indian paramilitary troopers stand guard during a lockdown in Srinagar in occupied Kashmir on September 6. — AFP/File
Indian paramilitary troopers stand guard during a lockdown in Srinagar in occupied Kashmir on September 6. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: Kashmiris have a right to self-determination. The Kashmir dispute is an international issue. The UN has a role in Kashmir. UN observers and international journalists should be allowed into the Indian occupied valley. All those detained by the Indian authorities should be released. The communication ban should be removed immediately.

Sounds familiar? Yes, these are the demands that are made at every gathering of Kashmir and Pakistani Americans in Washington since Aug 5, when India took away the valley’s autonomy and annexed it with the union.

But this time it was different. This was neither a Kashmiri or a Pakistani forum. It’s a US congressional panel — The Tom Lantos Commission for Human Rights.

In a question facilitated by US Representative James McGovern, all the witnesses agreed that the UN and international journalists should be allowed into Kashmir, and that the current ban on communication should be lifted.

Sehla Ashai, a Kashmiri-American lawyer, went a step ahead and exposed India’s strategy of blaming everything on Pakistan.

“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you argue the facts. If the law and the facts are both against you, just pound the table and yell about Pakistan,” she said.

For the first time in almost half a century, a US Congressional panel also endorsed the Kashmiri demand for the right of self-determination.

“We can never give up on standing for the principle that people have a right to their own self-determination,” said the panel’s chairman James McGovern when a pro-Indian panelist urged the Congressional body not to support the demand for plebiscite, as it will never happen.

When panelist Sunanda 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.”

Congressman McGovern noted that the UN Commission on Human Rights had recently issued a “really good” report on the situation in Kashmir.” “We put that into the record here. I hope India takes them seriously. They should be engaged with the UN talking about these things,” he added.

Congressman McGovern also reminded India that there’s bipartisan concern in Congress on this “international issue.”

“We are going to continue to try to find ways to move this issue forward. This is not a threat. We are genuinely concerned. We are not going to go away on this issue,” he said.

This was the second time in less than a month that members of Congress held a hearing on Capitol Hill to discuss Indian-Occupied Kashmir, following up on a late October hearing by the House Sub-committee on Asian Affairs.

Referring to the lack of food, medical, supplies, and other daily essentials in the occupied valley, Ms Jackson Lee urged the Modi government to use its “power” towards humanity, not oppression.”

Congressman David Trone warned India that it could not enhance its security by oppressing Kashmiris. “Ensuring security can mean ensuring the protection of human rights at the same time, and they’re not mutually exclusive,” he said.

Congressman David N. Cicilline said he was concerned that the BJP government drew its inspiration from Hindutva, which had isolated religious minorities in India.

“The Indian government […] seems unconcerned by the stories emerging from Jammu and Kashmir and seems willing to take decidedly undemocratic steps in order to achieve their political goals,” he said.

Ms Ashai reminded the panel that she was from a family in which “the last three generations before me, anyone who’s a political activist, was detained or tortured.”

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2019