US refers to Valley as ‘union territory’, but says Kashmir policy is unchanged

Published March 5, 2021
“We welcome steps to return the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir to full economic and political normalcy consistent with India’s democratic values,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. — Reuters/File
“We welcome steps to return the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir to full economic and political normalcy consistent with India’s democratic values,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. — Reuters/File

WASHINGTON: The US State Department used the term “union territory” while referring to India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir in its news briefing on Wednesday, but it emphasised at the same time that Washington’s Kashmir policy remained unchanged.

“We welcome steps to return the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir to full economic and political normalcy consistent with India’s democratic values,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told journalists in reply to a question about the disputed territory.

The United States has consistently recognised Jammu and Kashmir as an area disputed between India and Pakistan, urging both to resolve this issue through bilateral talks.

But last month, while welcoming the resumption of high-speed internet in the occupied valley, a State Department tweet referred to the disputed territory as “India’s Jammu & Kashmir.”

Islamabad responded promptly to the omission, reminding Washington that the tweet was “inconsistent” with the disputed status of the region.

“We are disappointed to note the reference to Jammu and Kashmir in the US Department of State’s tweet regarding the resumption of 4G mobile internet in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK),” Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, the spokesman for the foreign ministry, told reporters in Islamabad.

At the Wednesday news briefing, a journalist asked Price if US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had discussed the Kashmir issue when he spoke with his Indian counterpart late last month.

“We continue to follow developments in Jammu and Kashmir closely. Our policy when it comes to it has not changed. We welcome steps to return the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir to full economic and political normalcy consistent with India’s democratic values,” the US official responded.

“As we’ve said before, Secretary Blinken has had a couple of opportunities to speak to his Indian counterpart, both bilaterally” and in a larger context.

Price said the United States had “important relationships” with both Pakistan and India. “These relationships stand on their own in our view. They are not a zero-sum proposition when it comes to US foreign policy.”

Explaining why Washin­gton wanted to maintain its ties with both the countries, the US official said: “We have productive and constructive relationships with one. It does not detract from the relationship we have with the other. It does not come at the expense of the relationship we have with the other.”

With India, he said, the United States “has a global comprehensive strategic partnership” and with Pakistan it “has important shared interests in the region”.

“And we will continue to work closely with the Pakistani authorities on those shared interests.”

Asked if Washington no longer considers Kashmir a disputed region, Price said: “What we have done is we continue to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other issues of concern. Of course, we’ve continued to call for a reduction of tensions along the Line of Control (LoC), returning to that 2003 ceasefire.”

When asked again if Secretary Blinken had discussed the Kashmir issue with his Indian counterpart, the US official said: “I would not want to go beyond the readout” issued after their conversation last month.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2021

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