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November 8, 2019

Congressional hearing on Kashmir issue

National

November 8, 2019

I had the opportunity to sit in on the first ever congressional hearing on Human Rights concerning the issue of Kashmir. A major flashpoint in the complex geo-political puzzle in the South Asian region which periodically flares up, took a major turn on August 5th when the BJP-led Indian government announced the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution stripping Kashmir of its special status which allowed it certain provisions of self-governance.

Since then the population of Jammu & Kashmir has been under complete lockdown, including the shutdown of all lines of communication including basic telephone service, curfews, detention of children and the movement of hundreds of thousands of Indian troops into the region. As a major point of contention between India and Pakistan, two nuclear armed nations with large populations there are few disputed territories in the world that have the capability of wreaking as much havoc as the valley of Kashmir.

Since August 5 the Kashmiri and Pakistani-American community has taken the issue to various members of congress educating them about the atrocities taking place in the region. The result was various congressman and senators signing onto letters denouncing the lockdown placed on Kashmiris and a subsequent hearing on the issue which took place yesterday.

There is no doubt that India and the United States have a strategic relationship embedded in economic ties with many US multinational companies looking to India as the new market for growth especially given the recent turmoil with China, the US congress however made it clear that these ties are not limited to economics, but extend to democratic values, which the US expects its partners to uphold. This point was made by many members of congress whom questioned Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells and Assistant Secretary of the US Department of State for Human Rights and Labor Robert Destro.

Representatives Abigail Spanberger, David Trone, Ilhan Omar and Anthony Brown fired off questions regarding why children were being detained, why US Senator Chris Van Hollen was not allowed permission to visit the area amongst other questions regarding the communications lockdown and the movement of a large number of troops into the area.

The hearing was largely seen as a calling-out of “the world’s largest democracy” and its treatment of its non-Hindu population as well as the nationalist, extremist policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi which were further exposed. Whether this hearing leads to action on the ground in Kashmir is yet to be seen, but the advocacy displayed by Pakistani and Kashmiri Americans alike deserves much applause as they mobilized soon after the revocation of Article 370 was announced. Perhaps it seems far-fetched to think anything can come of this, but a question from Congressman Anthony Brown on what tools, specifically economic tools the US has to put further pressure on India to conform to the standards of American democracy was one of the highlights of the hearing.

The US congress must be given credit for taking up this issue with the seriousness it has and hopes are that the Pakistani community can band together to advocate for stronger ties between the two countries in the future. The issue of Kashmir is a shining example of how the collective advocacy of the community can harvest real results. (The writer is board member of Pakistani American Political Action Committee).