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US seeking balancing act in South Asia over Kashmir: Report

PTI

Washington

The US is seeking a balancing act in South Asia after India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and divided it into two Union Territories, according to a congressional report which said President Donald Trump’s offer to “mediate” on the issue may have contributed to the timing of New Delhi’s moves.

According to the latest Congressional Research Service (CRS) report which runs into over 15 pages the longstanding US position on Kashmir is that the territory’s status should be settled through negotiations between India and Pakistan while taking into consideration the wishes of the Kashmiri people.

“The United States seeks to balance pursuit of a broad US-India partnership while upholding human rights protections, as well as maintaining cooperative relations with Pakistan,” the report said.

The Trump administration has called for peace and respect for human rights in the region. With key US diplomatic posts vacant, some observers worry that the US capacity is thin, and the US president Trump’s July offer to “mediate” on Kashmir may have contributed to the timing of New Delhi’s moves, it said.

The CRS reports are not considered as an official position of the US Congress. Notably the CRS has come out with a report on Kashmir after 17 years, reflecting the interest among lawmakers about the issue after the recent development.

“India’s August actions sparked international controversy as ‘unilateral’ changes of J&K’s status that could harm regional stability,” CRS said.

A copy of the report Kashmir: Background, Recent Developments, and US Policy dated August 16 was obtained by PTI on Wednesday.

“Increased separatist militancy on Kashmir may also undermine the ongoing Afghan peace negotiations, which the Pakistani government facilitates, the CRS said, adding that New Delhi’s process also raised serious constitutional questions and given heavy-handed security measures in J&K elicited more intense criticisms of India on human rights grounds.

Observing that there are international concerns about potential for increased civil unrest and violence in the Kashmir Valley, and the cascade effect this could have on regional stability, the report said that the Trump Administration has limited its public statements to calls for maintaining peace and stability, and respecting human rights.

The UN Security Council likewise calls for restraint by all parties; an informal August UNSC 16 meeting resulted in no ensuing official UN statement, it said.

The CRS said that New Delhi’s August moves have enraged Pakistan’s leaders and elicited concerns about further escalation between South Asia’s two nuclear-armed powers, which nearly came to war after a February 2019 suicide bombing in the Kashmir Valley and retaliatory Indian airstrikes.

The CRS said developments in Kashmir in 2019 raise five possible questions for the Congress like “Do India’s actions changing the status of its J&K state negatively affect regional stability? If so, what leverage does the United States have and what US policies might best address potential instability?

“Is there any diplomatic or other role for the US government to play in managing India-Pakistan conflict or facilitating a renewal of their bilateral dialogue?”

“To what extent does increased instability in Kashmir influence dynamics in Afghanistan? Will Islamabad’s cooperation with Washington on Afghan reconciliation be reduced?

“To what extent, if any, are India’s democratic/constitutional norms and pluralist traditions at risk in the country’s current political climate?

“Are human rights abuses and threats to religious freedom increasing there? Should the US government take any further actions to address such concerns?”

The last time CRS came out with reports on Kashmir was in 2002 when it prepared three reports for lawmakers. ‘Kashmir: Recent Developments and US Concerns’; ‘Elections in Kashmir’ and ‘Kashmiri Separatists: Origins, Competing Ideologies, and Prospects for Resolution of the Conflict’.

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