The US on Tuesday said while it supports India’s development agenda behind scrapping special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution, it was concerned over the current situation in the Valley.
It said it was closely monitoring the situation in Jammu and Kashmir following India’s decision to scrap special status and divide the state into two Union Territories on August 5.
The Indian government has argued that its decision on Article 370 was driven by a desire to increase economic development, reduce corruption and uniformly apply all national laws in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly in regard to women and minorities, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice G Wells told Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“While we support these objectives, the US State Department 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,” Ms Wells said in a statement submitted to the Congressional subcommittee a day before the hearing on “Human Rights in South Asia: Views from the State Department and the Region”.
The US State Department, she said, has closely monitored the situation in Jammu and Kashmir following India’s decision on August 5.
“While conditions in Jammu and Ladakh have improved, the Valley has not returned to normal,” Ms Wells said, adding the State Department has raised concerns with the Indian government regarding detentions of residents and political leaders, including three former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir.
“We have urged Indian authorities to respect human rights and restore full access to services, including internet and mobile networks,” she said.
Postpaid mobile service has been restored in the Valley, but internet access remains intermittent, Ms Wells said.
She said both foreign and local journalists have extensively covered developments in Jammu and Kashmir, but many have faced challenges in access and reporting due to security restrictions.
“While exact figures are difficult to ascertain, we understand several thousand people have been detained over the past two months, although many have subsequently been released,” the top US diplomat said.
According to government sources, hundreds remain in detention – many without charges – under the Public Safety Act, which allows for administrative detention of up to two years, Ms Wells said.
Welcoming actions by India to improve the situation and address local grievances, she said the Home Ministry recently said statehood will eventually be restored to Jammu and Kashmir, reaffirming what Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in his Independence Day speech on August 15.
The US, she said, also encourages the Indian government to follow through on its commitment to hold assembly elections in the state at the earliest opportunity. Some local political leaders were released earlier this month, a trend Ms Wells said she hopes will continue.
Government offices, primary schools, and colleges are open, although student attendance remains low, she said.
The Indian Supreme Court, Ms Wells said, is planning to hear petitions related to Kashmir on November 14 and the Jammu and Kashmir High Court is reviewing cases.
“While these steps are positive, they are incremental, and we continue to press India to restore everyday services, including SMS and internet communications, as swiftly as possible,” she said.