NEW YORK – The U.S. has called the visit of its Ambassador Ken Juster and diplomats from 15 other countries to Kashmir an "important step.”
Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, tweeted Jan. 12 that she was "closely following" the visit of the envoys to Kashmir, describing it as an "important step.”
Wells, who will be visiting India this week, added: "We remain concerned by detention of political leaders and residents and Internet restrictions. We look forward to a return to normalcy."
The group of diplomats made a two-day visit to the Union Territory Jan. 9 and Jan. 10 to see the conditions there after Jammu and Kashmir's special constitutional status was removed last August.
While some U.S. politicians and media have criticized the action by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, the U.S. has officially appeared to support the abrogation of the Constitution's Article 370 on the special status.
Last October, Wells told the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific that the State Department supported the objectives behind it, while not directly mentioning the abrogation.
"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.
"While we support these objectives, 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," she had said.
Washington has banked on India's democratic institutions – the judiciary and public debates – being able to steer the country.
Bearing this out, the Supreme Court last week ordered the government to review its decision to shut down the internet in Kashmir, which it declared was a fundamental right, thus taking a step to address Wells' concern.
Wells’ trip will also take her to Pakistan, according to the State Department.
In India, Wells is scheduled to meet with senior government officials to “advance the U.S.-India strategic global partnership following the success of the 2019 U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue” when she is in New Delhi from Jan. 15 to 18, the department said.
She will also attend the Raisina Dialogue, the major Indian conclave on global affairs, in New Delhi.
The department said that she will also meet with members of the business community and civil society.
India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper participated last month in the 2+2 dialogue on strategic cooperation between the two countries.
Wells will visit Sri Lanka before coming to India from where she will go to Pakistan.
In Islamabad, she is to meet with senior government officials and members of civil society to discuss issues of bilateral and regional concern, the department said.
Foreign Ministers Sergey Lavrov of Russia and Mohammad Javed Zarif of Iran, along with those of nine other countries, will be at Raisina Dialogue.
Jaishankar and other Indian ministers will also be at the meeting organized by the think tank, Observer Research Foundation.