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US urges India to engage with Kashmiri leaders – Newspaper

WASHINGTON: The US State Department has urged India to resume political engagement with Kashmiri leaders and schedule promised elections in their occupied region as soon as possible.

On Monday, US President Donald Trump reiterated his offer to help India and Pakistan in resolving the Kashmir dispute, although he also noted that tension over occupied Kashmir was “a little less heated” now in comparison to two weeks ago.

And a day before the 9/11 anniversary, Mr Trump issued an executive order that added Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief, along with 10 others, to a new list of global terrorists. The order enhanced the administration’s ability to go after suspected terrorists and their financiers and supporters.

In a statement to the media, US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus urged India to take some key steps to bring normalcy to occupied Kashmir, which has been suffering under relentless curfew imposed on Aug 5, when New Delhi unilaterally annexed the disputed territory.

“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,” she said.

Ms Ortagus said the United States “continue(s) to be very concerned by widespread detentions, including of local political and business leaders, and the restrictions on the residents” of occupied Kashmir.

“We are also concerned about reports that internet and mobile phone access continues to be blocked in certain regions,” she added. “We urge authorities to respect human rights and restore access to services such as the internet and mobile networks.”

The demand for political reforms — although unlikely to fully redress the grievances of the people of occupied Kashmir who want an end to India’s illegal occupation — shows Washington’s continued concern about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. It also indicates that the US is not buying India’s claim that the occupied region is calm.

At a White House press talk on Monday, President Trump used a question to reiterate his offer to help reduce tensions between India and Pakistan over occupied Kashmir. India opposes mediation in its disputes with Pakistan, but Mr Trump’s repeated offers show that like many in Washington he fears the Kashmir issue has the potential of causing yet another war between India and Pakistan.

“India and Pakistan are having a conflict over Kashmir as you know. I think it’s a little bit less heated right now than it was two weeks ago and I’m willing to help them,” he said.

“I get along with both countries very well. I’m willing to help them if they want, they know that is out there,” he added.

Diplomatic observers in Washington point out that Mr Trump’s decision to continue offering to media despite India’s strong objections also underline growing global concerns on the situation in occupied Kashmir.

Also, the US decision to list TTP chief as a global terrorist is being interpreted in Washington as a gesture aimed at assuring Islamabad that the United States is against all terrorist groups, whether they target Afghanistan, Pakistan or India.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2019

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