NEW DELHI :
Days after tacitly backing India on revoking the special status for Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcating the state, the US seems to have recalibrated its position after Islamabad expelled India’s envoy and suspended trade in retaliation.
Overnight Thursday, a US state department spokesperson said the US was closely following India’s legislation and urged the two countries to engage in dialogue to lessen tensions between them in a bid to curb the potential for “increased instability in the region."
The US comment came ahead of India urging Pakistan on Thursday to review its decision to whittle down diplomatic and trade ties. Pakistan’s move was aimed at presenting an alarming picture to the world of the state of bilateral ties, an Indian foreign ministry statement said.
Islamabad announced the decisions after a meeting of its National Security Committee on Wednesday which was attended by prime minister Imran Khan and senior army generals. On Thursday, a Reuters report said Pakistan had suspended screening of Indian films in the country. There were also reports of Islamabad stopping the Samjhauta Express, a popular bi-weekly train service between India and Pakistan.
The developments came after the Indian Parliament this week approved a resolution abrogating special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution and passing a bill for splitting the state into two Union territories—Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. India and Pakistan have fought three of their four wars over Kashmir, a territory that Pakistan claims in its entirety and considers its “core dispute" with India. New Delhi accuses Pakistan of fomenting terrorism in Kashmir.
“The US is closely following India’s legislation regarding the new territorial status and governance of Jammu and Kashmir. We note the broader implications of these developments, including the potential for increased instability in the region," a state department spokesperson told PTI in response to a question on tensions rising between India and Pakistan following the downgrading of diplomatic ties.
This remark from the US is a departure from its earlier comments on India’s move on Article 370. The earlier comment issued overnight Tuesday had said the US takes “note" of the Indian move and “call(s) on all parties to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control." The change in tone could be attributed to Pakistan putting pressure on the US to come out with a stronger statement, analysts said, as Washington looks to Pakistan to help reach a withdrawal pact with the Taliban.
“US is clearly calibrating its position keeping in mind its equities in both India and Pakistan," said Arun Singh, former Indian ambassador to the US. “While not challenging India’s step in its sovereign territory, it’s giving a sop to Pakistan by referring to ‘potential for increased instability in the region’," he said. “This is with an eye on its need for Pakistan’s cooperation as it pursues talks with the Taliban, aimed at enabling a framework for US to draw down its troop presence or militarily exit from Afghanistan, with an eye on gains in the 2020 Presidential elections."
India has maintained that declaring Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh Union territories was strictly an internal matter. But it was expected to be discussed during the visit of acting assistant secretary for south and central Asian affairs Alice Wells, who will be in New Delhi over the next two days.
The US statement overnight Thursday said there was an “urgent need" for dialogue to reduce tensions and to avoid a potential military escalation in South Asia. It also refuted news reports that India had informed the US before revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, a PTI report said. “The US calls for calm and restraint by all parties," the statement said.
The US state department spokesperson added that Washington was “concerned by reports of detentions and the continued restrictions on the residents of Jammu and Kashmir." The reference was to India keeping under house arrest leaders of prominent political parties in Kashmir. New Delhi had also deployed extra security personnel in Kashmir.
“We continue to support direct dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir and other issues of concern," the spokesperson added.
Meanwhile, in New Delhi, the Indian foreign ministry said: “India regrets the steps announced by Pakistan on Thursday and would urge that country to review them so that normal channels for diplomatic communications are preserved."
“The intention behind these measures is obviously to present an alarming picture to the world of our bilateral ties. The reasons cited by Pakistan are not supported by facts on the ground," the statement said, adding that India’s recent decisions were “driven by a commitment to extend to Jammu and Kashmir opportunities for development that were earlier denied by a temporary provision in the Constitution".
Slamming Pakistan, the statement added, “It is not surprising that such developmental initiatives that could address any disaffection in Jammu and Kashmir should be negatively perceived in Pakistan, which has utilized such sentiments to justify its cross-border terrorism."