Two influential US Congressmen, a Democrat and a Republican, have backed India against China “aggression”, but have also noted “with concern” that conditions in Jammu and Kashmir are not normal a full year after its special status under Article 370 was revoked. Eliot Engel, the Democrat Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Michael T McCaul, Republican Ranking Member of the panel, have written to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to acknowledge the “serious security and counter terrorism concerns” in the region, and to say they looked forward to working with India to address these concerns and to uphold the two countries’ “shared commitments to democratic values and freedoms”.
“As the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, we are writing jointly to demonstrate the strong bipartisan support for the US-India relationship,” the Congressmen said in their letter dated August 5. “Members of both parties recognize the impact that a strong US-India partnership will have on the trajectory of the 21st century. As Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi said in February of this year, our ties “are no longer just another partnership. It is a far greater and closer relationship”.”
This “closer relationship”, the letter said, “is all the more important as India faces aggression from China along your shared border, which is part of the Chinese government’s consistent pattern of unlawful and belligerent territorial aggression across the Indo-Pacific”.
The United States will “remain steadfast in support of India’s efforts to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity”, the two Congressmen said.
The letter, however, expressed concern over the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. Congress had questioned the Trump administration on this issue during a hearing last year.
“As champions of the US-India relationship, we have been delighted to see our countries’ close cooperation on issues from defence to climate change. It is because of our support for the bilateral relationship that we note with concern that conditions in Jammu and Kashmir have not normalised one year after India’s repeal of Article 370 and the establishment of Jammu and Kashmir as a Union Territory,” Congressmen Engel and McCaul wrote.
“We acknowledge the ongoing serious security and counterterrorism concerns in the region and look forward to working with your government to address these concerns while upholding our shared commitments to the democratic values and freedoms on which our countries’ bond was built,” they said.
The Congressmen recalled Modi’s words that “unity in diversity and unity’s vibrancy is the key to a strong relationship between India and America”, and said: “We look forward to working with you to continue to strengthen and advance this vibrant and consequential relationship.”
In first comments on Capitol Hill on June 2, Engel had expressed “concern” over the tensions along the Line of Actual Control, called China a “bully”, and “strongly” urged Beijing to “respect norms and use diplomacy” to resolve its border issues with India.
Engel has been a longtime India supporter. Jaishankar had cancelled a meeting with him and other Congresspersons in Washington DC last December over the inclusion of Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who had moved a resolution asking India to end restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir, in the delegation.
Ministry of External Affairs official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said on Thursday that the letter from the Congressmen “reflects a strong bipartisan support for India in the US”.
There have been “several positive changes” in Jammu and Kashmir over the past year, the spokesperson said, including ensuring good governance and socio economic development, and justice to disadvantaged sections. Elections had been held for Block Development Councils, schools had been reopened, new healthcare facilities were coming up, and infrastructure development had taken place, he said.
“So all this certainly reflects a return to complete normalcy. And we continue to be engaged with and brief our interlocutors, including Congress in this regard, and we’ll be happy to brief Congress members as well,” Srivastava said.