ISLAMABAD: Visiting United States (US) Senators Chris Van Hollen and Maggie Hassan on Monday urged India to offer “greater transparency on occupied Kashmir” as is offered by Pakistan on Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).
Addressing a joint press conference with at the US Embassy in the federal capital, Hollen said that the US wants India to end the communications blackout and the curfew which has been in place for the past nine weeks.
Hollen said that he requested the Indian government to gather facts about the “detention of hundreds or thousands of people for over 60 days” and highlight greater transparency in order to address “real concerns of rule of law and human rights”.
“In Kashmir, transparency is important so that people know what is happening to their loved ones. It is important to ask questions and to address human rights concerns,” he said.
Maryland Democrat Senator Hollen, who is visiting Pakistan after he was denied permission to visit Srinagar by India, expressed “deep concerns over the humanitarian situation in Kashmir”. Talking about the AJK visit which was facilitated by Pakistan’s government on October 6, Hollen said that they held “very good discussions” with the AJK president and prime minister and mentioned that the United Nations Military Observer Group at the Pakistani side of Kashmir had the freedom to investigate the incidents as compared to its counterpart, which was reportedly confined to Srinagar.
When asked what role the US could play in persuading India to ease restrictions, he said that it was important to speak out for human rights. He said that the US did not have any prior information about the decision India was going to make on August 5.
“Whenever the tensions between Pakistan and India escalate, there is always a danger of miscalculation,” he said.
“In a conflict, there is a risk of escalation and I believe that Prime Minister Imran Khan understands the risk and will do his best to deescalate,” he added.
The senator said that although the recent Kashmir situation had made things difficult between Pakistan and India, “the US would like to see restoration of dialogue between the two countries at some point”.
Senator Hollen, who also visited North Waziristan on October 5, said that he was pleased to see dramatic reduction in violence in the area. He lauded the efforts by Pakistan in the last 10 years in terms of improvement in security after the fight with the Taliban and termed it as a “sign of progress” with headway in shape of transition to civil administration, and construction of building infrastructure, including schools and roads.
Speaking about Afghanistan, he said that the US was interested further steps, including the restoration of negotiations with the Taliban and the Afghan government. He, however, stressed that “terms” were important, particularly an agreement that includes reduction in violence or ceasefire.
He said that despite ups and down in the past, the US would like to further strengthen relations with Pakistan.
“The US wants a multi-dimensional relationship encompassing people-to-people relationship, student exchanges and cooperation in energy, healthcare and climate change,” he said, adding the $6.6 billion bilateral trade had immense potential to bring business leaders together.
When asked if the US State Department could reconsider its travel advisory for Pakistan in view of improved security, Hollen said that he would like to consult with security experts on the safety situation, adding that Pakistan was heading in right direction with its parts lot safer than others.
Senator Maggie Hassan termed her visit to the AJK “very important to have first-hand view of the matter” and revealed that she would be visiting India in the next few days.
“The things I hope to do there is to solicit the Indian government’s perspective on Kashmir and hope they would afford us the same transparency that Pakistan has,” she said.
Expressing serious concerns about the actions of Indian government, she said that the situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) was “real and needs to be addressed”.
She said that although the AJK leadership was trying hard to encourage appropriate restraints to check any escalation, she feared that “there was always a risk as one side or the other could misinterpret”.
On the way forward between Pakistan and India, she said that restoration of communication in the IOK, freeing of detainees and lifting of curfew could give an opportunity for the two sides to engage.
Both senators agreed that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the US could play their role in facilitating the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
Senator Hollen said it is important for the Indian government to recognise that UNSC is an option as the international community has always sought action on human rights. “However in terms of resolving the overall dispute, the two governments have to talk about it and the US is, and should always, facilitate the discussions,” he said.
Both senators expressed satisfaction over Pakistan taking a number of positive steps related to curbing of money laundering and terror-financing.
Senator Maggie Hassan termed Pakistan “a beautiful country with hospitable and welcoming people” while Senator Hollen said that he was awestruck by the natural beauty of AJK, emphasising that Pakistan has tremendous potential in the tourism sector.