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October 24, 2019

US Congressman raises issue of Assam Muslims

Top Story

October 24, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Congresswoman Ilhan Omar raised the issue of two million Assam citizens who face detention in camps and have to prove credentials especially the Muslims to become eligible for Indian citizenship.

She raised this issue during special hearing of Congress House Sub-committee on Asia & the Pacific with a special focus on Kashmir on Tuesday.

Ms Wells responded that this exercise had started after an Indian Supreme Court ruling. To this Chairman Sherman stated no court ruling or local law can justify an abuse of human rights if it’s in conflict with international law.

The Chairman of US Congress House of Representative Foreign Relations Committee Eliot Engel has said that Trump administration is giving free pass to countries who violate human rights and democratic norms and same is evident in US State Department response to Indian revocation of Article 370 about Kashmir.

Mr Engel remarked so in a Special hearing of Congress House subcommittee on Asia & the Pacific with a special focus on Kashmir on Tuesday. Mr Engel said that President Trump has taken focus away from human rights, democratic principles and American value.

He added that we hear foreign officials telling with delight, “US does not interfere in our internal affairs”. Congressman Brad Sherman who is the chairman of subcommittee on Asia & the Pacific and oversaw the hearings remarked that Pakistan has shown more restraint than he expected after annexation of Kashmir on Aug 5 by India.

Ms Alice G. Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs US Department of State stated that US has observed decline in infiltrations across Line of Control and welcomed the statement of Prime Minister Imran Khan against any crossing over to Indian side of LoC from Pakistan side. Ms Wells also welcomed action by Pakistan to meet FATF guidelines.

Replying to different questions , Robert A. Destro, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour US Department of State acknowledged that there is a humanitarian crisis in Kashmir and for the families involved, it’s a disaster. Destro shared his concern about detention of Kashmiri political leaders and others under Public Safety Act (PSA). PSA gives rights to Indian authorities to detain anyone for two years.

The first ever Indian origin Congresswoman Ms Pramila Jayapal expressed disappointment over detention of 144 children in Kashmir as revealed in an Indian High Court decision. She shared that around 4000 Kashmiris have been detained including the Uncle of her constituent, Dr Mobeen Shah, an ex-president of Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Kashmir. She said Mobeen Shah is detained since August and her family insists he needs immediate medical attention. Ms Jayapal shared her intent to move a bipartisan resolution in the Congress against the illegal detentions in Kashmir.

Ms Jayapal was highly critical of the release of political prisoners in Kashmir after filling a form or bond never to return to politics. She reacted on testimony of amnesty international representative on such forced exit from politics as a pre-condition for release from detention by Indian authorities.

Acting Assistant Secretary, State Department Ms Alice Wells called for full restoration of the communication facilities as US was not comfortable with the tradeoff between national security and individual liberties.

Assistant Secretary Destro said that authorities lose the channel of response and feedback from ordinary citizens by such blockade and it is counter productive.

Congressman Tom Malinowski wondered if such communication blockade has ever been used by USA in any of its counter terrorism operations. Malinowski added such actions empower the terrorists rather than the local population who lose the channel to protest and share information.

Another member of Congress remarked that such blockade has not been seen even during the Iraq operation.

Congresswoman Ms Abigail Spanberger quoted an incident where ten people lost lives in a fire incident in Kashmir and emergency services could not reach due to blockade of communications and similar impact on health services. Ms Spanberger , herself a former US intelligence service official said that a classified hearing should be held to share credible threats which Indian government faces to ascertain if such blockade is justified.

Congressman David Cicilline said that India resorted to use of pellet guns in Kashmir to blind and maim the protestors and reduce the number of deaths.

On Cicilline question, Assistant Secretary Ms Alice Wells replied that pellet guns were widely used in 2017 and US government raised the issue and India has now transitioned away from use of pellet guns. However, United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights 2nd Report on Kashmir released in July 2019 quotes incidents of pellet guns casualties during 2018.

The UN report quotes information from Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital, where most pellet shotgun injured are treated and 1,253 people were blinded by the metal pellets used by Indian security forces from mid-2016 to end of 2018. There have been reports in international media of the death of a youth during protests after Aug 5 due to pellet gun wounds.

Cicilline, Congressman David Trone, Andy Levin criticised that India does not allow foreign journalists to report from Kashmir.

On a question by Congressman Jim Costa as to what has US done to support a Commission of Enquiry under UN Human Rights Commission on violations in Kashmir , Assistant Secretary Alice Wells said that India does not support internationalisation or multilateral handling of Kashmir issue. She added in same response that US supports bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan on Kashmir issue.

On growing religious intolerance in India, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour US Department of State Destro expressed concern and shared that this can endanger the world biggest democracy as the Indian constitution is based on secularism. He said US Ambassador for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback is expected to travel to India this week, “provided he gets a visa”.

Congresswoman Ms Jayapal stated that if Brownback does not get the visa, there will be a whole new level of engagement with India. Ms Jayapal said that she was dismayed with the level of fear in people of different religions in India and it was disappointing that India was fourth worst in a survey of 198 countries about religious intolerance by credible PEW Research of USA.

Congress woman Ilhan Omar also criticised BJP policies against religious pluralism. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee opined that the sacrifices made by the Pakistan Army to root out terrorism should be acknowledged. Assistant Secretary Ms Wells responded that USA acknowledges the sacrifice of 70,000 Pakistanis against militants who targeted Pakistani state and added that US will like to see same level of commitment by Pakistan against non-state actors in India and Afghanistan.

Responding to questions about trade and economic actions, Ms Wells stated that US companies worked all over world with a transparent and open way of doing business which was far better than the predatory loans-based practices under Belt and Road Project by china.

Ms Wells also talked about the importance of South Asian countries in the success of new Indo Pacific strategy of USA. In her testimony, Ms Wells also referred to Indian prime minister commitment of returning statehood status to Kashmir after holding of assembly elections.

To this Congressman Jim Costa drew Ms Wells attention to Modi remark of “One nation One Constitution”. Ms Wells added that US Foreign policy main focus was to ensure dignity of the Kashmiri people and their political and economic well-being.

A number of members of Congress including Chairman Sherman criticised India for refusing access to Senator Chris Van Hollen and US diplomats to Kashmir after Aug 5 to assess the situation on ground. Ms Wells stated she is urgently and persistently asking Indian authorities to allow access to Kashmir.

Assistant Secretary Destro welcomed the release of blasphemy accused Asia Bibi and the focus of Imran Khan government against corruption. However, he expressed concern at those who are languishing in jails on blasphemy charges and the delisting of huge number of international NGOs in Pakistan and curbs on domestic NGOs to use foreign funding.

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