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Efforts to restrict access to restive region ‘counterproductive’, US diplomat

WASHINGTON : India’s efforts to restrict access to Jammu and Kashmir are “unproductive,” the top U.S. diplomat for human rights said Tuesday.

“No we don’t think it’s helpful,” Robert Destro, the State Department’s assistant secretary for human rights, told a congressional subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation. “It’s actually counterproductive.”

Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir has been under a near-complete lockdown since New Delhi’s move on Aug. 5, to scrap the special status of the region previously codified in the Indian Constitution’s Article 370.

Several rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly called on India to lift restrictions and release political detainees.

Attempts to stifle access to the contested region have also resulted in the State Department being unable to send in a delegation to view first-hand the conditions on the ground there.

Alice Wells, the acting assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, told lawmakers that Washington has been denied permission by New Delhi to visit Jammu and Kashmir.

The Indian government told Washington “this is not the right time” to visit, Wells said.

India has maintained that 93% of the restrictions have been eased in the conflict-ridden region, a claim Anadolu Agency could not independently verify.

From 1954 until Aug. 5, 2019, Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed a special status under Article 370, which allowed it to enact its own laws.

The provisions also protected the region’s citizenship law, which barred outsiders from settling in and owning land in the territory.

Wells said Washington is not concerned with the revocation of Article 370 in and of itself, but rather the conditions under which Kashmiris live.

“We’re not taking a position on Article 370,” she said. “We are taking a position on whether Kashmiris can live in dignity, and have a full economic and political life.”

India and Pakistan both hold Kashmir in parts and claim it in full. China also controls part of the contested region, but it is India and Pakistan who have fought two wars over Kashmir.

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