‘Refrain from retaliatory aggression’, US lawmakers send message to Pakistan
Two powerful US lawmakers on Wednesday called upon India to protect the constitutional and democratic rights of “all its citizens” in a reference to Kashmir developments and the Trump administration reiterated once again it was “closely following” the rollout of the legislative changes in the state and “continued to be concerned” over arrests and detentions there.
Also on Wednesday, another, and a larger, group of 15 lawmakers urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to publicly condemn the criminal charges and raids against lawyers Anand Grover and Indira Jaising in a significant reversal for India on Capitol Hill, where it has enjoyed unstinting support in recent years. “When was the last time you saw a critical statement from lawmakers on India,” a congressional aide asked to illustrate the point. And two of them on the same day.
“As the world’s largest democracy, India has an opportunity to demonstrate for all its citizens the importance of protecting and promoting equal rights, including freedom of assembly, access to information, and equal protections under the law,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel and Senate Foreign Relations committee chairman Robert Menendez in a joint statement regarding Kashmir. They are both Democrats and have been long-time, leading supporters of ties with India.
The House and Senate foreign affairs committees are powerful congressional bodies with their influence on US foreign policy drawing from their control of the budget of the state department and all its senior-level appointments. As chairman and ranking member in their respective committees, Engel and Menendez have been close and cherished India allies. Menendez, for instance, has supported CAATSA (Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) waiver for India’s planned purchase of Russian S-400s.
They sought to strike a balance at the same time by telling Pakistan to “refrain from any retaliatory aggression—including support for infiltrations across the Line of Control—and take demonstrable action against the terrorist infrastructure on Pakistan’s soil”. But Pakistan is used to that language.
It heard another version of it from the Trump administration once again on Wednesday. “We call on all parties to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control, including taking firm and resolute steps to combat cross-border terrorism,” said a state department spokesperson.
But the official also reiterated, for New Delhi notice and attention, the continued close attention from the United States to developments in the state, taking “note” of the “broader implications of these developments, including the potential for increased instability in the region”. The US calls for calm and restraint by all parties, the official added.
The Trump administration has been calibrating its response to Kashmir developments with an eye on the president’s topmost priority for the region, which is to end America’s longest war ever, Afghanistan. It has offered Pakistan an opportunity to repair ties — not “reset”, which is a term used by the US for more ambitious relationships, according to senior American diplomats — by using its leverage to persuade the Taliban to joint the peace process that is said to be poised at a crucial stage at the moment.
But the two congressional pushbacks are likely to be seen as a new challenge in New Delhi. Engel and Menendez, who issued the Kashmir statement, have been reliable India supporters. And if their statement was not chastening enough, the second, moved by Representative Jamie Raskin should.
Raskin has been a supporter of ties with India. And his initiative has been endorsed by powerful congressional figures such as Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House oversight committee who has been embroiled in the one of the most explosive of President Trump’s fights with Democrats.
Also among the signatories is Pramila Jayapal, the Indian-American lawmaker who is emerging as one of the leading lights of the progressive wing of the Democratic party.
Raskin’s letter is focussed on the CBI’s June 13 case against the Lawyers’ Collective, a non-governmental body founded in 1981 by Grover and Jaising. “The protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms must be a cornerstone of US foreign policy, including with our closest partners. We urge you to make a strong public statement addressing the Government of India’s dangerous moves to constrain freedom of expression, association, and speech.
“We also urge you to raise Mr. Grover and Ms. Jaising’s case with the Government of India prior to the expiration of the stay on August 19.”