The United States on Wednesday expressed concerns about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, pointing towards the communication blackout, restrictions in movement and continued detention of political leaders in the Valley. Alice Wells, US acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, made the comments during a hearing on human rights in South Asia.

Wells said while the US supported the Indian government’s objectives behind scrapping Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status, it also “remains concerned about the situation in the Kashmir Valley, where daily life for the nearly eight million residents has been severely impacted since August 5”.

She pointed that conditions in Jammu and Ladakh have improved, but situation in Kashmir has not normalised. “The Department has raised concerns with the Indian government regarding the detentions of local residents and political leaders, including three former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir,” Wells said. “We have urged Indian authorities to respect human rights and restore full access to services, including internet and mobile networks. Post-paid mobile service has been restored in the Valley, but internet access remains intermittent.”

The US diplomat said the country supported the right of Kashmiris to hold peaceful protests, but condemn the actions of terrorists who undermine dialogue by using violence and fear. “We are concerned about reports of local and foreign militants attempting to intimidate local residents and business owners in order to stymie normal economic activity,” she said.

The official also criticised Pakistan for harbouring terrorists. “...terrorist groups like Lashkar-e- Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammed, which seek to foment violence across the Line of Control, is destabilizing, and Pakistani authorities remain accountable for their actions,” she said.

Wells said the US believed a direct bilateral dialogue under the Simla Agreement “holds the most potential for reducing tensions” between India and Pakistan. “Restarting a productive bilateral dialogue requires building trust, and the chief obstacle remains Pakistan’s continued support for extremist groups that engage in cross-border terrorism,” she added.

She said there were historical precedents of India and Pakistan being able to make progress in talks. “During the 2006-2007 backchannel negotiations, India and Pakistan reportedly made significant progress on a number of issues, including Kashmir,” Wells said.

On Tuesday, Wells had said episodes of violence and discrimination against minorities were not in line with India’s legal protections for minorities.

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