U.S. Congressmen concerned over Kashmir

U.S. Congressmen concerned over Kashmir

Ami Bera and George Holding discuss contentious issues with the Indian government

Days before President Donald Trump’s visit to India, two senior U.S. Congressmen have expressed their concerns to the government over the situation in Kashmir and protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Representative Ami Bera, who is the Chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Asia-Pacific, and Representative George Holding, who is a co-chair of the India Caucus in the House, were part of a bipartisan delegation visiting the region, and said they had discussed both contentious issues with the Indian government, and the U.S.’s plans for Afghanistan and maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.

“It is our desire and interest to see a resolution [to the Kashmir issue] and a return to normalcy. We did convey that [to the government] and I expressed my concerns over the continued detention of political prisoners in Kashmir,” Mr. Bera, who belongs to the Democratic Party, told a small group of journalists during their visit to Delhi.

Mr. Holding, a Republican Congressman, said he shared Mr. Bera’s assessment and concerns, but added that he was “heartened” by the description given by government officials of the economic redevelopment plans for Jammu and Kashmir.

The statements by the Congressmen are significant not just because they were made on the eve of Mr. Trump’s visit to India, but because they were made after they had been briefed by the U.S. embassy officials on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir after the amendments to Article 370 last August.

Last month, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Juster had been part of a delegation of envoys that were taken to Srinagar and Jammu to assess the levels of “normalcy” on the ground. The Congressmen said they also would like to take a Congressional delegation to J&K at the earliest.

Normalcy steps

However, a government source said that during their meetings with the government, the two congressmen had acknowledged that the situation in J&K was very different from last year, and had been told about various initiatives to restore normalcy in the Union Territory. On Tuesday, the Ministry of External Affairs tweeted that Mr. Bera and Mr. Holding had met Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and “discussed strengthening ties & regional developments,” but didn’t give any further details.

Speaking to journalists, Mr. Bera said they had also spoken about the protests against the CAA and the “pushback against it”. “It was important to speak to senior Indian officials to get their assessment of the reasons for the decision. As an Indian-American, my pride comes from India’s founding as a secular democracy,” Mr. Bera said, adding that as the largest democracy and the oldest democracy, India and the U.S. shared the understanding that “protecting minorities is important”.

The U.S. Congressional delegation, which had visited Colombo prior to Delhi and is travelling to Kathmandu next, is also studying some of the “common challenges” India and the U.S. face, said Mr. Holding, including “similar challenges from China, fighting terrorism around the world, and the radicalisation in religions, particularly Islamic radicalism.”

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