U.S. Congress needs to know what’s going on in Kashmir: ex-envoy Roemer

American concern about human rights is addressing “shared values” between the two countries, he says

October 22, 2019 07:22 pm | Updated 07:22 pm IST - NEW DELHI

India needs to address the U.S. Congress and the government with some “depth and clarity” on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, a former U.S. envoy said. According to Timothy Roemer, who served in the U.S. Congress from 1991 to 2003 and was the Ambassador to India from 2009 to 2011, the American Congressmen who are expressing concern about human rights issues are addressing “shared values” between the two countries.

“I would recommend that the U.S. should hear more about what exactly is going on up [in Kashmir] and see some depth and clarity to it. Is the Internet off or on? Who is being detained and for what reason? Also how is India managing its controlled area compared to how Pakistan is managing its controlled area….these are important issues which the Congress should engage with,” Mr. Roemer told The Hindu in an interview, when asked about the U.S. Congress subcommittee hearing in Washington on Tuesday, looking into human rights concerns in South Asia, which included the situation in Kashmir and the National Register of Citizens process in Assam.

On Monday, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had blamed the “English liberal media” in the West for distorting the situation in Jammu and Kashmir after the government’s August 5 move to dilute Article 370, calling the media narrative the biggest ‘challenge’ in explaining the move to the U.S. government and lawmakers during his visit there last month.

Mr. Roemer said, however, the reason for the congressional measures, including the hearing, and language in the appropriation bill were that human rights were important for Americans and Indians.

“As diplomats, we respect India’s ability to resolve the issue of Kashmir bilaterally with Pakistan…but India also needs to recognise that members of Congress will express our common interests on human rights, just as India expresses its interests,” said Mr. Roemer, who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday night, while in Delhi to attend an event organised by the US India Strategic Partnership Forum that includes U.S. and Indian businessmen and diplomats.

On the Indo-U.S. trade impasse that continues to be negotiated a month after Mr. Modi’s visit to the U.S., Mr. Roemer said trade is the “defining issue” of the times, and a failure to finalise a trade deal would draw unfavourable comparisons with the U.S.-China trade war.

“China has become a bad word in the U.S. due to trade issues, and it’s one of the reasons that got Donald Trump elected. So let’s not create a problem for the U.S.-India relationship and learn from what has happened with China, where we are in a challenging situation. Wouldn’t it be ironic if we were to come to some trade agreement with China and not with India?” Mr. Roemer asked, adding that if India went ahead and signed onto the 16-nation ASEAN-led FTA agreement RCEP that includes China next week, the contrast between the two trade relationships would also be even more apparent.

Cautioning New Delhi, as other U.S. officials and lawmakers have, against including Chinese telecom major Huawei in India’s 5G trials, Mr. Roemer suggested that India could lose an opportunity to join intelligence sharing nations like Canada, U.K., Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. (called the “five eyes”) if India accepts Huawei.

“The U.S. resoundingly respects India’s sovereignty to make these decisions. But it’s one thing to have China on your border, and another to have it technologically at your back-door,” he added.

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