US voices Kashmir concern as lawmakers raise tone on India

US acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs, Alice Wells. (AFP)
Updated 23 October 2019

US voices Kashmir concern as lawmakers raise tone on India

  • Alice Wells, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, said the United States “remains concerned” about the impact of India’s actions in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley

WASHINGTON: The United States on Tuesday renewed calls on India to ease its clampdown in Kashmir as several lawmakers voiced anger at actions by a country that usually enjoys robust US support.
Senior US officials also criticized Pakistan’s record during a congressional hearing on human rights in South Asia, but nearly all lawmakers focused questions on India, which rescinded Kashmir’s decades-old autonomous status in August.
Alice Wells, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, said the United States “remains concerned” about the impact of India’s actions in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley.
“We have urged Indian authorities to respect human rights and restore full access to services, including Internet and mobile networks,” she told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee.
She said that the United States was also concerned about the detention of residents including mainstream political leaders and about impediments to both local and foreign media coverage.
India in August cut virtually all telephone and Internet service in Kashmir, fearing unrest in the scenic Himalayan region which its rival Pakistan also controls in part.
Indian authorities have since restored landlines and mobile service, but the Internet remains cut.
The actions by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government have triggered unusually vocal criticism by members of Congress, who along with successive US administrations have for two decades broadly backed building strong relations with India.
Representative Ilhan Omar, a prominent first-term Democratic lawmaker and one of the few Muslims in Congress, charged that Kashmir is part of a pattern against Islam by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
She pointed to reports of detention camps being built in the northeastern state of Assam, which borders Muslim-majority Bangladesh. Nearly two million people failed to prove their Indian citizenship in a controversial registration drive, with Modi’s government vowing that “illegal” immigrants cannot stay.
“This is how the Rohingya genocide started,” Omar said, referring to the bloody campaign by Myanmar against the mostly Muslim people.
“At what point do we no longer share values with India? Are we waiting for the Muslims in Assam to be put in those camps?” Omar said.
Wells, the State Department official, said the United States shared concerns but noted that the Assam citizenship registration was ordered by a court and that an appeals process was in place.
“As a democracy, we respect other democracies’ abilities to self-police and self-regulate,” she said.
Representative Brad Sherman, who heads the House subcommittee on Asia, shot back: “A human rights abuse doesn’t cease to be a human rights abuse just because it’s being done pursuant to the law or court rulings of the country committing the abuse.”

Despite lawmakers’ concerns, President Donald Trump has stood alongside Modi, joining him last month for an unusual joint rally in Houston where the two leaders vowed a hard line against extremism.
Modi argues that he will bring economic and social development to Kashmir by ending its special status — including restrictions on outsiders buying property.
But even some members of Trump’s Republican Party have voiced uneasiness. Kashmiri- and Pakistani-Americans have focused efforts on pressing Congress — evidenced at Tuesday’s hearing where the audience several times broke out in applause, generally a breach of decorum in Congress.
Representative Ted Yoho, the top Republican on the Asia subcommittee, said a dentist in his state of Florida told him how she learned weeks late, due to the blackout, that her grandmother had died in Kashmir.
“I don’t think anybody should have to live under those circumstances and I would hope that the free world would agree with that,” Yoho said.
The State Department also roundly criticized Pakistan for not reining in the virulently anti-Indian movements Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.
Wells deplored the “shrinking space for civil society and media freedom” in Pakistan, saying the situation has worsened in the past year, and voiced deep concern over treatment of religious minorities.


Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.