Indian ambassador briefs US lawmakers on ground situation in Kashmir

Since August 16, there was gradual removal of curbs and by September first week, most were removed, officials in Jammu and Kashmir had said.

Washington: India's ambassador to the US Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Wednesday briefed lawmakers on the situation in Kashmir and the steps taken to maintain peace after Jammu and Kashmir's special status was abrogated.

The briefing, first such by the top Indian diplomat for members of the House foreign affairs committee, comes as there has been an increasing voice of dissent and uneasiness among lawmakers on the curbs in Kashmir, several of which have been removed.

Since August 16, there was gradual removal of curbs and by September first week, most were removed, officials in Jammu and Kashmir had said. The most prominent being restoration of postpaid mobile phone services on October 14 for 40 lakh subscribers across networks.

Several Congressmen who were not members of the committee also attended the ambassadorial briefing and a majority of the lawmakers were from the opposition Democratic Party.

Congressman Ami Bera was the only Indian-American lawmaker present at the briefing. Shringla and other diplomats from the Indian Embassy here and its consulates in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and San Francisco, have reached out to hundreds of Congressmen and their aides after abrogation of the state's special status.

Since August 5, the government besides restoring post-paid mobilep hone services, has opened the state for tourists. On August 17, partial fixed line telephony was resumed and on September 4, nearly 50,000 landlines were declared operational. Educational institutions are also open, but attendance has been slim.

The government has claimed that over 99 per cent of the area of the state has no restrictions on movement. Congressman Brad Sherman, who is holding a hearing on human rights in South Asia, in particular Kashmir, next week, said lawmakers have been hearing from their constituents and that there have been some alarming report of restrictions, on movement and communications and lack of access. He however noted that some of these restrictions have been removed in recent days.

Interestingly, it is believed that Pakistan did not figure in the entire briefing that lasted for over 80 minutes. However, Shringla did mention the human rights situation in Pakistan and cross-border terrorism. He briefed lawmakers on the historic context of the Kashmir problem, and the steps being taken by India post August 5.

Shringla patiently responded to the questions from lawmakers Lawmakers raised issues of missing persons, restrictions on movement and communication. Shringla refuted the allegations about missing persons and assured the lawmakers that if any of their constituents cannot reach their families, he will personally ensure that the communication channel between them was established.

The ambassador said most of the restrictions have been lifted and the rest are being gradually removed. Congressman Pete Olson from Texas spoke about India-US relationship and the 'Howdy, Modi!' event in Houston.

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