NEW DELHI—Weeks before the planned India visit of President Donald Trump, four influential US senators have raised the issue of restrictions on digital communication in Kashmir and urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to take a serious note.
The restrictions were enforced in August 2019 when the Union Government abolished the special status that Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed under Article 370. The restrictions included curbs on media, a digital siege and detention of political leaders of all hues, curbs on the civil society and even on children. Many of them continue to remain under house arrest or confinement for the past six months.
Senators Lindsey Graham, Todd Young, Chris Van Hollen and Dick Durbin stated that Modi’s steps “threaten the rights of certain religious minorities and the secular character of the state.”
The senators wrote to Pompeo, raising their concerns on Kashmir restrictions and also over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act or CAA that triggered widespread protests. The senators include two each from among the Democrats and Republicans. Lindsey Graham is very close to Trump. It read: ”The Indian government continues to block most internet in the region…. India has now imposed the longest-ever internet shut-down by a democracy, disrupting access to medical care, business and education for seven million people. Hundreds of Kashmiris remain in ‘preventive detention’, including key political figures,” the letter noted, and added, “These actions have severe consequences.” The letter also raised concern over restrictions on religious freedom in Kashmir.
Donald Trump and wife Melania Trump will arrive in India on a two-day high-profile visit on February 24. They will begin their India tour with a visit to Ahmadabad, a city in Gujarat, where Prime Minister Modi will host them at a grand event. “We will have millions and millions of people. He thinks we will have 5–7 million people just from the airport to the new stadium,” Trump said, appearing excited about his planned visit.
“I’m expecting that this is essentially going to provide a similar kind of air-cover for Modi,” Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment said of the visit. “The Indian government has taken other troubling steps that threaten the rights of certain religious minorities and the secular character of the state. This includes the passage of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act,” the senators wrote in the letter.
The senators demanded that the US government assess the situation in Kashmir within a month and be able to tell “the number of individuals detained by the Indian government for political purposes due to India’s revocation of Article 370”. The letter asked for an explanation over the nature of “restrictions on communications” in Kashmir and the “level of access” given to independent observers, diplomats, foreign journalists. On the issue of CAA-NRC, the senators sought an assessment of the “number of individuals at risk of statelessness, denial of nationality pursuant to an NRC (National Register of Citizens).”
The letter comes close on the heels of the tour of a foreign delegation to Kashmir – an exercise by Indian government to push the narrative of ‘normalcy’ it claims to have restored in Kashmir after removal of special status and bifurcation of the state into two Union Territories.
Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed his desire to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir to resolve the long-standing dispute amicably. The US government has said that it is keeping a close eye on the situation in Kashmir