Tribune News Service
New Delhi, October 22
India’s position on the lockdown in Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), that excludes only the Muslims from citizenship, came under attack from lawmakers of the US House of Representatives at a hearing on South Asia in Washington today.
An upfront statement by senior US State Department official Alice Wells seemed to weigh in India’s favour by suggesting direct talks between India and Pakistan based on the Simla Agreement and terming cross-border terrorism as the biggest obstacle in building trust between the two countries.
But the balance tilted when the hearing got underway and at one point, senior US government official Robert Destro “condemned” the CAB when the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asia Brad Sherman asked him, “Have we condemned the concept of defining someone’s legal rights obligation based on their religion?” He had also wanted to know whether CAB was a serious proposition or a “crackpot idea”. On the Assam’s National Register for Citizens, which leaves out 19 lakh people, Destro said, “Although there is an appeal process, poor and illiterate population will be at disadvantage.”
The Congressmen were perturbed over the Indian Government denying permission to a group to visit Kashmir and talked about holding a classified hearing to judge whether the restrictions on communication and detentions have actually prevented terror attacks.
Responding to Wells stating that the Indian Government feels this is not the right time for a US Congressional delegation to visit Kashmir, sub-committee member David Trone felt “seems like the right time exactly” while his colleague Abigail Spanberger wanted to know why was India, a close ally, not giving permission to US diplomats to enter Kashmir.
In response to Congressman Tom Malinowski asking if terrorists rely on mobile phones to conduct their activities, Destro was forced to acknowledge that the crackdown was “counter-productive”. The lawmakers also grilled Destro and Wells closely on whether the scrapping of Article 370 was due to the “ultra-nationalism of the BJP”.
Earlier, in an endorsement of the Indian position, the US State Department spoke in favour of a direct dialogue between India and Pakistan, as outlined in the 1972 Simla Agreement. In another affirmation of the Indian stand, it identified Pakistan’s continued support for cross-border terrorism as the chief obstacle in restarting a productive bilateral dialogue.
These formulations were part of a statement submitted by Wells before a sub-panel of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), which heard testimonies on J&K, besides the situation of Tamils in Sri Lanka, the human rights position in Pakistan and the situation of Muslims in Assam.
India is making hectic efforts to sensitise US Congressmen to the Kashmir issue. Led by Indian Ambassador to the US Harsh Vardhan Shringla, five Indian diplomats held a special session for them earlier this week. Also present was Brad Sherman, who heads the HFAC subcommittee.
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