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a congressional hearing on human rights in South Asia, but nearly all lawmakers focused questions on India, which rescinded Kashmir’s decades-old autonomous status in August.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.

Panic grips Kashmir after internet crackdown

Updated 21 min 48 sec ago

Panic grips Kashmir after internet crackdown

  • Authorities use UAPA charges against those ‘misusing’ social media

NEW DELHI: When Yahia Mir steps outside of his home in Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir, he is careful to leave his smartphone behind. 

The 23-year-old journalism student from Kashmir University explained that he does so because he is scared of security forces discovering the Virtual Private Network (VPN) installed on his mobile phone.

Recently, Mir (not his real name) said, a friend of his was assaulted by officials who found a VPN on his phone.

“Everyone in the valley uses a VPN to connect with the outside world,” Mir told Arab News on Wednesday. “Tell me, how do you expect life to be normal when there is no internet?” 

The disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir has been under curfew following New Delhi’s annulment of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution — which guaranteed special autonomy to Kashmir, parts of which are governed in part by both India and Pakistan, but all of which is claimed by both countries to belong to them.

Since the Indian government annulled Article 370, there has been a crackdown on mobile and Internet services in the valley which, to date, have only been partially restored.

To get around the internet ban many in the valley turned to proxy networks, which allow users to anonymously connect with a third-person server outside of Kashmir.

On Tuesday, in a renewed crackdown, the Indian government filed charges against people “misusing” social media.

Local police in Srinagar registered cases against various unnamed individuals under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), a draconian law that means anyone charged cannot seek bail for six months.

Police said that action would be taken against those who misused social-media sites to propagate “secessionist ideology and (promote) unlawful activities.”

“There have been continuous reports of misuse of social media sites by the miscreants to propagate secessionist ideology and to promote unlawful activities,” Jammu and Kashmir police said in a statement released on Tuesday, which went on to say that the “miscreants” were “propagating rumors with regard to the current security scenario of the Kashmir valley … and glorifying terror acts/ terrorists. 

“A lot of incriminating material has also been seized in this regard.” A First Information Report (FIR) has been registered against the “miscreants.”

Mir told Arab News that this is “the government’s new way to terrorize the people of Kashmir.”

Legal professional Deeba Ashraf said the crackdown feels “as if we are living in the 19th century.”

She told Arab News: “My profession demands that I remain updated about recent cases and case laws. How is that possible without the internet?” She added that “even security personnel” in the valley are using VPNs.

“I have lost trust in the government and I don’t see which way Kashmir is going,” she continued. “The government’s crackdown scares everyone. But I wonder does the government have any policy for Kashmir besides lockdown?”

Computer engineer Muddasir (not his real name) agreed.

“Most of the people who needed the Internet for their professional survival have left the valley,” he said. “I am also thinking of leaving Srinagar to escape the prison that we are in. The sense of fear is so strong. Imagine: Security forces are checking your phone and trying to see what apps are on (it). Is this normal?”

Iltiza Mufti, daughter of the detained former Chief Minister of Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti, strongly condemned the government’s measures.

“The rest of the country — and the envoys who visited Kashmir — were told that we enjoy equal rights, but in reality you can’t even use VPN in Kashmir. What rights do Kashmiris have right now?” she asked in a press conference in Delhi on Tuesday.

“The clampdown in Kashmir (is taking a huge toll) and Jammu and Kashmir is grappling with an economic, psychological and emotional crisis,” added Mufti, who has become the face of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) after her mother’s arrest last year.

Srinagar-based political analyst and writer, Gowhar Geelani, told Arab News: “This is an official admission by the Indian government of thought control of the entire population of Kashmir. This is a war against the people of Kashmir. The arrest of the three former chief ministers of the state and the detention of other political activists show that, in Kashmir, the only opinion that matters is the opinion of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”

Geelani added that there are “darker days ahead and not much hope.”