US congressional body expresses bipartisan ‘concern’ over Kashmir
It was a rare instance of bipartisan criticism of the Kashmir changes. Democrats have condemned it before, and in many public forums such as congressional and semi-congressional hearings and on social media, headlined most prominently by Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, an Indian American.Updated: Aug 06, 2020 20:07 IST
The US House of Representatives committee that oversees foreign relations on Wednesday expressed bipartisan “concern” over the situation in Kashmir in a letter to external affairs minister S Jaishankar by its top Democratic and Republican leaders, worded carefully so as to not sound a discordant note.
“We note with concern that conditions in Jammu and Kashmir have not normalised one year after India’s repeal of Article 370 and the establishment of Jammu and Kashmir as a Union Territory,” Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, and Michael T McCaul, the top Republican called the ranking member, wrote in the letter.
It was a rare instance of bipartisan criticism of the Kashmir changes. Democrats have condemned it before, and in many public forums such as congressional and semi-congressional hearings and on social media, headlined most prominently by Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, an Indian American.
Republicans had been mostly supportive thus far through their silence, taking the lead from the Trump administration’s carefully calibrated response that it was an “internal matter” for India but it wanted the restrictions in place in the immediate aftermath be removed at the earliest.
Cognizant perhaps of the significance of the bipartisan nature of their criticism, the two lawmakers sought to soft-land it by averring themselves as “champions” of the relationship, which they have been indeed over the years, and added they were “delighted” at the two countries’ “close cooperation on issues from defense to climate change”.
They also offered full-throated support for India in its ongoing border tensions with China. “This closer relationship is all the more important as India faces aggression from China along your shared border, which is part of the Chinese government’s consistent pattern of unlawful and belligerent territorial aggression across the Indo-Pacific. The United States will remain steadfast in support of India’s efforts to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
They also acknowledged “the ongoing serious security and counterterrorism concerns in the region”, in a barely veiled reference to threat emanating from across border in Pakistan.
The House Foreign Relations Committee controls the state department’s budget, and uses that power to influence the country’s foreign relations. Its Senate counterpart — the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — wields similar influence through its power to confirm or reject the appointment of ambassadors and senior officials.
Engel had joined the top Democrat on the senate foreign relations committee, Senator Bob Menendez, to call on India to protect the constitutional rights of “all it citizens” in reference to the Kashmir restrictions. “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,” they had said then in a joint statement. But it was not a bipartisan action like Wednesday.