Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Alice Wells, left, and Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights Robert Destro speak at a hearing on human rights in South Asia held by the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Asia and the P. Image Source: IANS News

New York, Oct 22 : The United States does not dictate to India but partners with it, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells declared on Tuesday at a Congressional hearing on human rights in South Asia at which Representatives leveled caustic criticism of India's action in Kashmir after rescinding its special constitutional status.

"This is not a relationship of dictation, it is a relationship of partnership," she said.

She was responding to Democratic Representative Anthony Brown who suggested that the US should take economic or other measures against India on the restrictions it has placed on Kashmir.

Wells said that India, a country of 1.3 billion people, has survived four wars, the suspension of the constitution under then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, "it has survived Maoist insurgencies and insurgencies in Kashmir, and at the same time it has continue to lift people out of poverty and incrementally make advances. We respect that. So that conversation with India will continue. When we see Indian institutions have failed or responded slowly it is something that we take up but this is not a relationship of dictation, it is a relationship of partnership".

During the hearings by the House of Representative Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific in Washington that was to cover all of South Asia, almost all of the discussions centred on India, mostly ignoring human rights issues in Pakistan as Representatives repeatedly brought up the restrictions placed by India on Jammu and Kashmir, often based on what they heard from some of their constituents with ties to Kashmir.

Wells said in her opening remarks to the subcommittee that the US welcomes "actions by the Indian government to improve the situation and address local grievances" in Jammu and Kashmir while being concerned about the detention of local political leaders and activists and the internet blackout.

But she also said that Washington was "concerned about reports of local and foreign militants attempting to intimidate local residents and business owners in order to stymie normal economic activity".

"While conditions in Jammu and Ladakh have improved, the Valley has not returned to normal," she said.

The US supports the Indian government's objectives "to increase economic development, reduce corruption, and uniformly apply all national laws in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly in regard to women and minorities," she said.

However, "the 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" when India rescinded the special constitutional status, she said.

"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," she said, adding: "We have urged Indian authorities to respect human rights and restore full access to services, including internet and mobile networks." "The United States supports the rights of Kashmiris to peacefully protest, but condemns the actions of terrorists who seek to use violence and fear to undermine dialogue," Wells said.

Overall about India, she said: "We are proud to partner with India. Its Constitution mandates a secular state that upholds the rights of all citizens to practice religion freely, freedom of expression and speech, and equal treatment before the law." Wells said that the US believes that Pakistan and India should resolve the Kashmir problem bilaterally.

In response to a Congressman's remarks about the presence of 800,000 troops in Kashmir which he said amounted to one soldier for every eight Kashmiris, she said that it was a misleading characterisation because most troops were stationed along the line of control.

She said that a decline in cross-border infiltration has been noticed since the restrictions were imposed in Kashmir.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at arul.l@ians.in and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

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