US lawmakers voice concern over Kashmir, NRC at Congressional hearing
Influential US lawmakers were joined by Trump administration officials in expressing concern about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and the implementation of the National Register of Citizens in Assam during a Congressional hearing.
Though Alice Wells, the top American diplomat for South Asia, said during Tuesday’s hearing on the rights situation in South Asia that the US believes the success of direct talks between India and Pakistan depends on Islamabad cracking down on terrorists, there were tough questions from lawmakers on the security lockdown in Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
Wells, the acting assistant secretary of state for South Asia, said at the hearing convened by the US House committee on foreign affairs the US “remains concerned” about the situation in the Kashmir Valley, and has urged India to “respect human rights and restore full access to services, including internet and mobile networks”.
There was no official response from Indian officials to the comments made by US lawmakers and officials at the hearing.
Asked by lawmaker Sheila Jackson Lee if the situation in Kashmir, including the lack of access to medical treatment and communications blackout, amounted to a “humanitarian crisis”, assistant secretary Robert Destro of the bureau of democracy and human rights replied: “Yes it is…it’s a crisis, to the individual families who’re involved, it’s a disaster.”
Destro praised India’s democracy but added the US had been “compelled to raise several human rights issues as behaviour that...can undermine India’s democratic success”. Wells said the US administration shared the concerns of lawmakers about the manner in which India implemented the August 5 decision to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, including the detention of hundreds of mainstream politicians.
Lawmaker Ilhan Omar strongly criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party and referred to reports of detention camps being built in Assam, where 1.9 million were excluded from the NRC. “At what point do we no longer share values with India? Are we waiting for the Muslims in Assam to be put in those camps?” she said.
Brad Sherman, who heads the House subcommittee on Asia, asked Destro whether the Citizenship Amendment Bill was a “serious legislative proposal or just a crackpot idea”. Destro replied that it was a “serious legislative proposal but thankfully it’s not gone through the upper house (of Parliament)”.
Destro responded to Sherman’s subsequent question on whether the US had condemned “defining the concept of someone’s legal rights (and) obligations based on their religion” by saying, “Well, we’re doing it right here.”
Indian-American lawmaker Pramila Jayapal said the situation was complex and Pakistan wasn’t without its share of responsibility, but added that India needs to uphold its commitment to human rights as the world’s largest democracy and a critical ally of the US.