New Delhi: A group of US lawmakers on Wednesday expressed concern over the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, raising the issue of detention of local political leaders and the communications blackout in the region.
Some members at the hearing on human rights in South Asia by a Congressional sub-committee in Washington also had strong words for Pakistan, urging Islamabad to take action against terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Lawmakers Ted Yoho, Abigail Spanberger, and Mike Fitzpatrick expressed concern over the human rights situation in Kashmir and urged India to take steps to lift restrictions on movement of people, communications, and detention of political leaders, the Press Trust of India reported.
"I recognise that the situation is complex. I recognise that Pakistan is not without its share of responsibility," Pramila Jaypal, the first Indian-American member of the US House of Representatives was quoted as saying by PTI. “But India as the world's largest democracy and a critical ally for the US needs to uphold its commitment to human rights," she said.
India has said the scrapping of Article 370 is an internal matter and that the curbs placed on the movement of people and communications were necessary to ensure violence doesn’t break out.
Foreign minister S Jaishankar during a bilateral visit to Washington in September engaged with US lawmakers and think tanks to put forth India’s views on the matter in the face of a sustained campaign by Pakistan to paint a picture of grave human rights violations amid a lockdown in Kashmir.
Some western media reports have been supportive of Pakistan's narrative, Jaishankar had said, adding that this was not the true picture. Article 370 of the constitution was a temporary provision of the Indian constitution that had to go for development efforts by India to bear fruit in Kashmir. This in turn would quell insurgency in the region, he said.
In her remarks, Alice Wells, the Acting US Assistant Secretary of State, said the State Department too had concerns about the detentions of local residents and political leaders, including former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir."
“We have urged Indian authorities to respect human rights and restore full access to services, including internet and mobile networks," she said. "While the Department supports the development objectives of India's move to abrogate Article 370, we remain concerned about the situation in the Kashmir Valley... It has not returned to normal."
But while supporting the Kashmiris' right to hold peaceful protests, she said the US condemns the actions of terrorists who undermine dialogue by using violence and fear. The US was "concerned about reports of local and foreign militants attempting to intimidate local residents and business owners in order to stymie normal economic activity".
Wells also had strong words for Islamabad. "Pakistan's harboring of terrorist groups like Lashkar-e- Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, which seek to foment violence across the Line of Control, is destabilizing, and Pakistani authorities remain accountable for their actions," she said.
"We believe that direct dialogue between India and Pakistan, as outlined in the 1972 Simla Agreement, holds the most potential for reducing tensions," she added.