Sriram Lakshman

Suhasini Haidar

A year after the government altered the status of the former State of Jammu & Kashmir by abrogating Article 370, the leadership of an important committee of the U.S. Congress noted “with concern” that conditions in the region have not returned to normality.

In a letter dated August 5 and addressed directly to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, Chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), Democrat Eliot Engel, and Ranking Member (i.e. a Republican) Michael McCaul — who formerly headed the House Homeland Security Committee — underscore the bipartisan nature of the concerns over Jammu and Kashmir and the larger context of the bipartisan support for the U.S.-India relationship.

“It is because of our support for the bilateral relationship that 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,” the Congressmen wrote.

“We acknowledge the ongoing serious security and counter-terrorism concerns in the region and look forward to working with your government to address them while upholding our shared commitments to the democratic values and freedoms on which our countries’ bond was built,” they said.

In December last year, Mr. Jaishankar had cancelled a meeting with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, after a human rights hearing held on the issue of J&K, and a resolution critical of New Delhi was moved in the House by US Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal.

India has faced a series of statements from the U.S., the European Union and the U.N. agencies over the past year since the moves last August 5. Earlier this week, several U.N. human rights experts issued a statement calling on the international community to “address the alarming human rights situation” in J&K.

“Urgent action is needed,” the experts said in a letter issued by the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva. “If India will not take any genuine and immediate steps to resolve the situation, meet their obligations to investigate historic and recent cases of human rights violations and prevent future violations, then the international community should step up.”

Responding to questions about both statements, the Ministry of External Affairs said it would be “happy to brief the U.S. Congress” on the situation in the Union Territory one year after the move.

“There have been several positive changes in the UT of J&K in the past year, whether be it in terms of good governance or socio economic development or ensuring justice to disadvantaged sections of the population,” said MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava on Thursday, but did not address the statement from the U.N. experts.

In its letter, the HFAC also made a specific mention to China’s ‘belligerence’ at the Line of Actual Control, assuring U.S. support as “India faces aggression from China along [the] shared border, which is part of the Chinese government’s consistent pattern of unlawful and belligerent territorial aggression across the Indo-Pacific”.

The August 5 letter “Demonstrates that support for the relationship remains bipartisan and contrary to thoughts in certain quarters, concerns about religious pluralism in India is also bipartisan,” a Congressional staffer told The Hindu.

The MEA spokesperson, who also said the letter “reflects strong bipartisan support for India in the U.S.,” did not respond to the HFAC reference to China‘s actions at the LAC.

This story appeared first in ‘The Hindu’ on August 10, 2020 here.