By Shumaila Andleeb
ISLAMABAD (APP) – Visiting US senators Chris Van Hollen and Maggie Hassan on Monday called upon India to afford them similar transparency on Kashmir as given by Pakistan in its side of the valley.
Senator Hollen, who is visiting Pakistan after India where he was denied permission to visit Srinagar, expressed “deep concerns over the human rights situation in Kashmir”.
Sharing a media interaction with Senator Maggie Hassan here at the US Embassy, Maryland Democrat Senator Hollen said the immediate concern was restoration of full communication and ending curfew.
Senator Hollen said he made a request to the Indian government to gather facts about the “detention of hundreds or thousands people for over 60 days” and highlight greater transparency in the need to address the “very real concerns of rule of law and human rights”.
“In Kashmir, transparency is important so that people know what’s happening to their loved ones. That’s why the issue is important to ask questions about and to address the human rights concerns,” he said.
On the other hand, the two senators were facilitated by the Pakistan government to visit the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) on October 6.
Hollen said they held “very good discussions” with the AJK president and prime minister and mentioned that the UN Military Observer Group at the Pakistani side of Kashmir had the freedom to investigate the incidents as compared to its counterpart, which was reportedly confined to Srinagar.
Asked what role the US could play in persuading India to ease restrictions, he said it was important to speak out for the human rights issue. He said the US did not have any advance notice about the decision India was going to make on August 5.
If the tension between Pakistan and India could escalate, he said, “there was always a danger of miscalculation”.
“In a conflict, there is a risk of escalation and I believe that Prime Minister Khan understands the risk and could do his best to deescalate,” he said.
He said though the recent Kashmir situation had made things difficult between Pakistan and India, however, “the US would like to see restoration of dialogue between the two countries at some point”.
Senator Hollen, who visited North Waziristan on October 5, said he was pleased to see dramatic reduction in violence in the area.
He lauded the efforts by Pakistan in last 10 years in terms of improving security situation after its fight with the Taliban and termed it a “sign of progress” with headway in shape of transition to civil administration, and construction of building infrastructure, including schools and roads.
On Afghanistan, he said the United States was interested in the next steps, including the restoration of negotiations with the Taliban and the Afghan government. He, however, stressed that “terms” were important, particularly the agreement that included reduction in violence or ceasefire.
He said despite ups and down in the past, the US would like to further strengthen relations with Pakistan.
“The US wants a multi-dimensional relationship encompassing people-to-people relationship, student exchanges and cooperation in energy, healthcare and climate change,” he said, adding the $6.6 billion bilateral trade had immense potential to bring business leaders together.
Asked if the US State Department could reconsider its travel advisory for Pakistan in view of improved security, Hollen said he would like to consult with security experts on the safety situation, adding Pakistan was heading in right direction with its parts lot safer than others.
Senator Maggie Hassan termed her visit to the AJK “very important to have first-hand view of the matter” and revealed that she would be visiting India in next few days.
“The things I hope to do there is to solicit the Indian government’s perspective on Kashmir and hope they would afford us the same transparency that Pakistan has,” she said.
Expressing serious concern about the actions of Indian government, she said the situation in the Jammu and Kashmir was “real and needs to be addressed”.
She said the AJK leadership was trying hard to encourage appropriate restraints to check any escalation, however, feared that “there was always a risk as one side or the other could misinterpret”.
On way forward between Pakistan and India, she said restoration of communication in the Indian occupied Kashmir, freeing the detainees and lifting of curfew could give an opportunity for the two sides to engage.
Both senators agreed that the United Nations Security Council and the US could play their role in facilitating the resolution of the Kashmir issue.
Senator Hollen said it was important that the Indian government recognized that the UNSC remained an option as the international community sought action on human rights.
“However in terms of resolving the overall dispute, the two governments have to talk about, and the US is, and should always facilitate the discussions,” he said.
Both the senators expressed satisfaction over Pakistan taking a number of positive steps relating to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Senator Maggie Hassan termed Pakistan “a beautiful country with hospitable and welcoming people” while Senator Hollen said he was awestruck by the natural beauty of the AJK, emphasizing that Pakistan had a tremendous potential in the tourism sector.