United States Senator Chris Van Hollen, a member of the Democratic Party, has claimed that he was denied permission by the Indian government to visit Kashmir to see the situation “first-hand”, The Indian Express reported on Saturday. He is the first American Congress representative to be denied permission to visit the region.
Kashmir has been in a curfew-like state since August 5, when the Centre revoked its special constitutional status, detained political leaders, and imposed a communications blockade. Though US President Donald Trump has offered to mediate in the dispute between India and Pakistan over the region, almost the entire international community, excluding a few countries, have not chastised India for its actions.
“I wanted to visit Kashmir to see first-hand what was happening, but was not allowed by the Indian government,” said Van Hollen, who met officials and important civil society members in New Delhi on Thursday and Friday. “We had approached the government about a week ago, but were told it was not the right time to go there.”
Van Hollen, who represents Maryland in the Senate, is one of almost 50 Congress members who have expressed concern about the clampdown in Kashmir, The Washington Post reported. “If the Indian government has nothing to hide, they should not worry about people visiting Kashmir and witnessing the situation with their own eyes,” he told the US newspaper. He pointed out that the two countries, the world’s largest democracies, “talk a lot about our shared values”. “I think this is a moment where transparency is important,” he added.
In September, Van Hollen pushed an amendment to an appropriations bill in the Senate that mentioned the restrictions imposed in Kashmir. The amendment bill backed “enhanced engagement with India on issues of mutual interest” but also noted “with concern the current humanitarian crisis in Kashmir”, and called on the Narendra Modi government to restore communication networks and release detainees.
Though the Ministry of External Affairs did not respond to questions about the decision to stop the American senator from travelling to Kashmir, unidentified government officials said foreign dignitaries had been advised not to go there because of safety and security concerns.
“I have a deep affection for India and support stronger Indo-US relations,” Van Hollen told The Indian Express. “And, it’s important for the Indian government to address the provisions in the US Senate’s Appropriations committee-adopted Bill which includes language on Kashmir.”
The report by the committee was submitted by Lindsey Graham, a senior senator and key Republican Party leader close to President Donald Trump, on September 26, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the US.
“This amendment, which was accepted unanimously by the bipartisan committee, is a strong expression of concern by the Senate about the situation in Kashmir and sends the signal that we are closely monitoring the human rights situation there, and would like to see the government of India take those concerns seriously,” Van Hollen told The Hindu.
Labour Party diaspora group protests
Meanwhile, members of the Opposition Labour Party in the United Kingdom, and other groups have protested against an anti-India resolution on Kashmir passed recently at the party conference, PTI reported on Friday. The resolution had urged Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to push for international observers to enter the region, and back Kashmiris’ right of self-determination.
Labour Friends of India, a diaspora group of the Labour Party, wrote to Corbyn and Shadow Home Secretary Emily Thornberry about its concerns over the procedure followed to pass the emergency motion.
“We have concerns about the procedure for the selection of the motion, the quality of the evidence that backed it up, the lack of a balanced debate on the subject, and its ultimate selection and adoption,” read the letter.
Now, follow and debate the day’s most significant stories on Scroll Exchange.