The unprecedented communication and movement lockdown in the Valley for more than two months has attracted some concern and criticism from United States once again. Seeking a roadmap to political and economic normalcy in Kashmir, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice G Wells asked India to ease the restrictions in the troubled region.
US has also demanded an immediate release of all political detainees, adding that it has seen “progress” in easing of restrictions. Pakistan should take “sustained and irreversible” steps against terrorists in its territory, it said.
Most of the top-level and second rung separatist politicians of Jammu and Kashmir have been taken into preventive custody while mainstream leaders, including two former chief ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, have been either detained or placed under house arrest after centre’s decision to revoke special status to Jammu and Kashmir and splitting the state into two Union Territories.
“We continue to press for the release of detainees for the full restoration of everyday services, but most importantly, for roadmap to the restoration of political and economic normalcy,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice G Wells.
The US said it remains “deeply concerned” about the situation in the Valley where daily life of nearly eight million residents has been severely impacted since the decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and to “detain without charge” political leaders and restrict communications, Ms Wells said in an interaction with reporters at Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department.
“We’ve seen progress, for example, four million postpaid mobile phone users have had service restored, but SMS and internet is restricted,” she said.
Internet services across all platforms were snapped in the Valley on the night of August 4, hours before Centre announced its decision to abrogate Article 370 that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and split the state into two UTs, officials in Srinagar said.
The internet services were snapped along with mobile and landline telephone services. While the landline telephone services were restored gradually first, the postpaid mobile services were restored only last week. The prepaid services continued to remain barred.
Noting that journalists have extensively covered developments in Kashmir, Ms Wells said the role of some of the international reporters have been particularly important, but journalists continue to face challenges in access while reporting due to the security restrictions.
Wells said terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen “obviously are the problem.”
“In this vein, we welcome (Pakistan) Prime Minister (Imran) Khan’s unambiguous statement in September that anyone who crosses from Pakistan to carry out violence in Kashmir are enemies of both Pakistan and the Kashmiri people,” she said.
“The constructive dialogue that we’d like to see between India and Pakistan must be based on Pakistan taking sustained and irreversible steps against militants and terrorists in its territory,” Wells said. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have met and spoken with their Indian and Pakistani counterparts multiple times and all sides have the responsibility to create the conditions in Kashmir for dialogue including avoiding heated and unhelpful rhetoric, she said.
On Tuesday Alice G Wells told Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee that while US supports India’s development agenda behind scrapping Article 370 it was concerned over the current situation in the Valley.
Wells has joined the likes of Senator Mark Warner, House Representative Pramila Jayapal, and Congressman James P McGovern who have urged the Indian government to lift the communication and movement block imposed in Kashmir and free the citizens who have been detained. US has said it is closely monitoring the situation in Jammu and Kashmir following India’s decision to scrap its special status and divide the state into three Union Territories on August 5.