A month after political leaders were detained and communication restrictions put in place in Jammu and Kashmir, the United States Friday expressed concern over the “widespread detentions” and “urged” Indian authorities to “respect human rights”.
Washington has also asked Indian authorities to “resume political engagement with local leaders” and hold “elections at the earliest”. This is the strongest statement by the Trump administration so far on the Centre’s move to scrap Jammu and Kashmir’s special status. It comes after US President Donald Trump had said on August 26 that he had discussed the issue on August 25 over dinner and had said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi “really feels he has it under control”.
There was no official statement from New Delhi in response to the US State Department’s comments.
Responding to questions, US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said: “We continue to be very concerned by widespread detentions, including of local political and business leaders, and the restrictions on the residents of the region. We are also concerned about reports that Internet and mobile phone access continues to be blocked in certain regions.”
“We urge authorities to respect human rights and restore access to services such as the Internet and mobile networks. We look forward to the Indian government’s resumption of political engagement with local leaders and the scheduling of promised elections at the earliest opportunity.”
This is a clear evolution of the US administration’s position, especially weeks before the Prime Minister is scheduled to travel to the US for the UN General Assembly in New York.
Friday’s comments – released by the US embassy in Delhi – indicate that this approach is very different from the US position on August 6, when it had said that they “take note” that the Indian government has described these actions as strictly an internal matter. They had said that they were concerned about reports of detentions and urge respect for individual rights and discussion with those in affected communities.
Last month, on the sidelines of the G-7 meeting in Biarritz in France, Modi had said that all issues with Pakistan are bilateral and India doesn’t bother any other country about them. “India and Pakistan were together before 1947 and I’m confident that we can discuss our problems and solve them, together,” he said.
Trump had said: “We spoke last night about Kashmir, the Prime Minister really feels he has it under control. They speak with Pakistan and I’m sure that they will be able to do something that will be very good… I have a very good relationship with both the gentlemen (Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan) and I’m here. I think they can do it (resolve the issue) themselves.”
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had said there was no discussion on J&K at the meeting between Modi and Trump that followed — their second in 2019, two months after they last met in Osaka on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Japan.
The discussions on Kashmir appear to have taken place at a dinner Sunday attended by the two leaders and hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron at the Hotel du Palais.
Since August 5, when the Centre moved to scrap the special status granted to J&K under Article 370 and bifurcate the state into two Union Territories, the US administration’s statements have been carefully crafted.
On August 5, Ortagus said, “We are concerned about reports of detentions and urge respect for individual rights and discussion with those in affected communities.” She also called on “all parties to maintain peace and stability along the Line of Control”.
On August 8, the US said that it is “closely following” the situation and noted the broader implications of these developments, including the potential for increased instability in the region. The US said it supported “direct dialogue between India and Pakistan” and called “for calm and restraint”.
On August 19, three days after the UNSC informal consultations, Trump spoke with Modi and conveyed the importance of reducing tension in the region.
On August 20, US Defence Secretary Mark T Esper spoke to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and “appreciated India’s position that the recent developments in J&K are an internal matter of India”.
It was the first time the US referred to the Kashmir situation as an “internal matter”. Russia was the first UNSC permanent member to underline that the changes have been carried out “within the framework of the Constitution of the Republic of India”.
On August 22, Trump suggested — for the third time in a month — that he will do his best to “mediate” on the Kashmir issue.