Rep. Rashida Tlaib tables a resolution condemning human rights violations in Kashmir

U.S. House Representative Rashida Tlaib participates in a ceremonial swearing-in at the start of the 116th Congress in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Kashmir imbroglio has continued to reverberate in the U.S. Congress with a resolution introduced by a progressive Democratic lawmaker condemning India for alleged human rights violations in the Valley, while Republican lawmakers have countered with a strong defense of New Delhi’s actions.

On Nov. 22, just before Congress adjourned for the Thanksgiving holiday recess, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D.-Mich.), one of two Muslim American women (the other being Rep. Ilhan Omar, D.-Minn.), introduced House Resolution 724 "Condemning the human rights violations taking place in Jammu and Kashmir and supporting Kashmiri self-determination" and referred it to the House Foreign Affairs Committee that has jurisdiction over such matters.

In the aftermath of India’s repeal on Aug. 5 Article 370 of the Constitution that provided Kashmir special status, Tlaib’s resolution called on Congress “to affirm that any changes to the status of Jammu and Kashmir must be made with the direct consultation of the Kashmiri people, who must play a central role in the determination of their future.”

It accused India of unilaterally changing the status of Jammu and Kashmir “without a direct consultation or the consent of the Kashmiri people,” and urged that the government immediately lift all remaining elements of the communications blockade imposed in the valley.

The resolution also pointed to the continuing “detentions and harassment of journalists in Jammu and Kashmir” as has been reported by independent observers and the international media and also complained about the “right to religious expression” being severely curtailed, which it said included the closures of mosques and religious buildings.

According to the resolution, "India has failed to hold its military accountable and perpetuated a state of impunity for members of the Indian Armed Forces and related security services, in part through the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.”

It also opposed and condemned any use of force against civilian populations by governmental and nongovernmental actors alike, particularly “the use of pellet shotguns and rubber bullets as a crowd-control method in any case,” as had been reported by the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights.

The resolution also urged the State Department “to facilitate contact between Kashmiri Americans and their family members in Jammu and Kashmir,” and reiterated that India has used “the arrest and indefinite detention of thousands of people to control civilians of all ages, including minors as young as nine,” by using its Public Safety Act, “which violates Article 9(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

But it also acknowledged that the militant groups Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen and Harakat Ul-Mujahidin—all of whom have been designated as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO’s) by the U.S. State Department -- had also contributed to “the harsh conditions and dire human rights situation faced by civilians in Jammu and Kashmir.”

In this regard, considering that these militant groups, largely based in Pakistan and accused by India of being supported, funded and trained by the Pakistani military’s intelligence arm, the ISI, the resolution called on India and Pakistan as per the UN appeals and resolutions, “abstain from the use of force to settle the status of all disputed territories between them,” and instead to “engage in dialogue to deescalate tensions between them.”

In September too, Tlaib, a Palestinian American, had condemned India’s decision to abrogate the special status of Kashmir and the alleged draconian measures new Delhi had imposed in the valley, including the communications blockade.

At the time she said, “While I have deep respect for India and its important relationship with the United States, I condemn the Indian government’s revocation of Articles 370 and 35A, the communications blockade it has imposed, its suppression of life-saving medical care, and the reports of widespread violence, torture, and other human rights violations being carried out in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Meanwhile, even at the time Tlaib introduced her resolution, U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney (R.-Fla.), following a meeting with Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Harsh Vardhan Shringla, said that Islamic militants continued to be a “constant threat” and were “spreading terror,” in Kashmir.

Urging his Congressional colleagues to help support India combat terrorism, Rooney said, "India faces many regional and geopolitical threats. Islamic insurgents are a constant threat, spreading terror throughout Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere in India. We should support the government in Delhi in the continued fight against terror.”

In a speech on the House floor, declaring how imperative it was to forge the “critical relationship” with India, and describing New Delhi as “an ally” of the U.S., the lawmaker said, referred to his recent meeting with Shringla “to discuss the critical issues facing India and the importance of the bilateral relationship between India and the U.S.”

Another GOP lawmaker, Rep. Pete Olson of Texas, strongly defended India’s revocation of special status for Kashmir, saying that it would now create “equality for all Indians,” and predicted that it would soon be “a stepping stone to peace,” in the erstwhile state.

Olson said on Nov.21, "Earlier this year, the Indian Parliament confirmed that Article 370's temporary status should end. It ended. It gave the people of Jammu and Kashmir the same rights as all Indians. It was a landslide: 125 to 61 in the Rajya Sabha and 370 to 70 in the Lok Sabha. This action creates equality for all Indians."

"Hopefully this action can be a stepping-stone to peace in Kashmir," the lawmaker said and argued that Article 370 was a temporary provision and "for 70 straight years, this temporary article has forced citizens of Jammu and Kashmir to live under different laws than all other Indians--different rules for citizenship and property ownership".

Rooney and Olson jumping to India’s defense, comes close on the heels by U.S. Rep. George Holding’s soliloquy on Oct. 31st, when on the floor of the House, the GOP lawmaker--who represents North Carolina and is also the Republican co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans--in an apparent pushback and hefty swipe against his Democratic counterpart Rep. Brad Sherman—for his stinging criticism of India’s human rights violations in Kashmir at the Congressional hearing he recently convened—strongly defended the Modi government’s action’s in the Valley.

In unequivocally endorsing India’s actions in revoking Article 370, Holding argued that it “was an outdated provision of law” and deemed “temporary” by the Indian Constitution that had led to corruption, nepotism and cronyism by “those with political connections,” but left the majority of people in the state denied of “economic opportunities.”

He said that the legislation adopted by the Indian parliament “modified provisions that were an obstacle to economic development and promoted a sense of separatism,” fomented by Pakistan.

“It also created a polarizing environment that was exploited politically,” he asserted, and added, “During the past decades, thousands of people lost their lives due to terrorist attacks,” Holding said, and added, “Several groups based in Pakistan were able to conduct cross-border terrorism that wreaked havoc on individuals and families, and led to a morbid economy.”

On Oct. 22, a hearing titled “Human Rights in South Asia,’ where the focus of largely on the current humanitarian situation in Kashmir, convened by Sherman, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, who is also the Democratic co-chair of the India Caucus, pilloried India for human rights violations against minorities, with Sherman himself leading the charge.

Lawmaker after lawmaker, virtually all of them Democrats, including Indian American lawmaker Pramila Jayapal of Washington state attacked what they called India’s draconian actions in Kashmir with an intensity not seen in decades, often to loud applause and cheering by Kashmiri American Muslims, the pro-Pakistan lobby and members of progressive groups in the audience of this public hearing.

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