Quick Take

Forget US Congress criticism on Kashmir; India must do the right thing

| Updated on October 23, 2019

File photo   -  PTI

There is a case for lifting communications blockade in Kashmir. But it has more to do with India’s responsibility towards the Valley than international concerns

There were several squirm-inducing moments for Indian diplomats and policymakers during the US Congressional hearings on Tuesday on “the human rights situation in South Asia” — which were, predictably, focussed disproportionately on the situation in Kashmir.

In particular, the hearings shone an unflattering light on the communications blockade — which are still substantially in force in the Kashmir Valley — and the continued detention of key State-level political players, following the Narendra Modi government’s move on August 5 to disband the special status that the State enjoyed under Article 370 of the Constitution.

Members on the far left of the US political spectrum, including Representative Ilhan Omar, played to the gallery of their domestic constituencies with grandstanding rhetoric on the human rights situation.

And although the official US position — as articulated by Alice G Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asia at the US State Department — was much more nuanced and even appeared to formally back the Indian government’s rationale for the August 5 move, the proceedings did establish that the Kashmir issue stands substantially “internationalised”, despite the foot-stomping protestations of Indian security officials.

It is, of course, true that the high-minded exertions of US officialdom and politicians have, over time, lost much of the moral authority (such as it is) that they once commanded on the international stage. It is increasingly difficult for a country that has committed grievous crimes abroad ostensibly in defence of democratic values — and, only the other day, gave a virtual carte blanche for Turkish troops to invade Syria and massacre Kurdish forces — to take the high ground and be taken seriously.

And yet, it would be folly for the Indian policy establishment — having secured official US buy-in on its larger move to integrate Jammu and Kashmir more fully into the Indian Union — to shrug off these articulations of concern on the situation in the Valley.

There is a case for lifting the communication blockade and easing the political restrictions on State-level political leaders, and that case has nothing to do with accommodating the sensibilities of big powers. It’s more about doing the right thing by Kashmir – and by the Kashmiri people.

It is true that India has for far too long lived with Pakistani perfidy in sponsoring terrorism in India’s border States – and that US official policy has far too often cynically sided with Pakistan in order to advance US interests in the region. It is entirely possible that, given Pakistani intransigence, India will have to continue to deal with the blight of terrorism for a long time.

But that project is ill-served by spawning resentment of the sort that the communication blockade and the political fettering of the State’s leaders breed.

Alicia Wells’ testimony also drew pointed attention to the instances of lynchings by vigilantes acting to prevent cow slaughter — and to the more general perpetuation of hate crimes by a majoritarian impulse. Again, these are blights on India’s record of democratic freedoms and secular pluralism, and they ought to be addressed, not just because US Congressional leaders want it but because India owes it to itself to be a tolerant, law-abiding society that values the rule of law.

Published on October 23, 2019

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