The United States Congressional hearing on human rights in South Asia last Tuesday turned out to be principally about criticism of India in the context of Kashmir. Besides raising concerns in the US, the lockdown imposed on the Valley and the ensuing “humanitarian crisis” appears to be prejudicing ties with Malaysia and Turkey.
The leaders of these countries had sharply criticised India on the Kashmir issue from the floor of the UN General Assembly last month. Since then, the decision of our palm oil importers — presumably at the government’s behest — to eschew imports from Malaysia, an important source for decades, threatens to complicate an otherwise smooth bilateral relationship with a leading Asean country.
It also appears Prime Minister Narendra Modi is contemplating skipping a proposed visit to Turkey in order to show his displeasure. It is evident, however, that New Delhi cannot appear punitive with Washington.
While observations made during the Congressional hearings implied deep unhappiness with India’s actions on Kashmir, assistant secretary of state Alice Wells, presenting the US State Department view to Congress, also asked Pakistan to “pull down” its terror infrastructure as a way to restore dialogue with New Delhi. This general advice is all that India could draw solace from.
When Congressman Jackson Lee asked another State Department official, Robert Destro, who appeared at the hearing, whether there was a “humanitarian crisis” in Kashmir, the official replied in the affirmative. Ms Wells said the US was “disappointed” New Delhi had not permitted it to send a delegation to Kashmir.
She told the Congressional committee, “We are concerned about the detention of local politicians...We have been very persistent and urgent.”
Unwittingly, the government’s actions have internationalised Kashmir, something that New Delhi aims to avoid doing.