House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-New York, and Ranking Member Michael McCaul, R-Texas, sent a letter Aug. 5 to S. Jaishankar, India’s Minister of External Affairs, expressing concern over the lack of development in Jammu and Kashmir, a year after India revoked the region’s autonomous status.
“As champions of the U.S.-India relationship, we have been delighted to see our countries’ close cooperation on issues from defense to climate change,” wrote Engel and McCaul, leaders of the most powerful committee in the House. “It is because of our support for the bilateral relationship that we note with concern that conditions in Jammu and Kashmir have not normalized one year after India’s repeal of Article 370 and the establishment of Jammu and Kashmir as a Union Territory,” they wrote.
The MEA had not issued a response to the letter as of press time Aug. 6. But in a series of tweets, Jaishankar noted several developments in the new Union territories, which he headlined: “A transformation underway in Jammu and Kashmir and in Ladakh.”
“Application of progressive laws. Delivery of social justice. Advancement of women’s rights and empowerment. Support for vulnerable sections. Expansion of education and employment opportunities. Development projects taking shape on the ground,” tweeted Jaishankar.
The Indian Embassy in Washington, DC Aug. 5 released a list of initiatives undertaken in the region, including grassroots projects by women and youth to fight the COVID 19 pandemic. The list — a copy of which was forwarded to India-West — cites new infrastructure projects underway, including expanded roads, new bridges, hospitals, libraries and power plants, and improved access to potable drinking water.
New “poly houses” constructed by the Indian government in Srinagar are designed to boost vegetable cultivation. Crops can be grown in the high-tech structures at night and even off-season. A major irrigation project is also underway to help farmers during summer droughts.
The Embassy report noted that a year after the revocation of Article 370, violence in the region has dramatically declined, and optimism is soaring.
Engel and McCaul also pledged bi-partisan support for maintaining and strengthening the U.S.-India relationship. The congressmen also noted China’s aggressive tactics to claim the Galwan Valley in Ladakh.
“This 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,” they wrote.
Engel and McCaul also pledged to partner with India on security and counter-terrorism issues.
Last week, Jaishankar told Indian media that India must stand up to China. “Reaching an equilibrium with China is not going to be easy and India must stand its ground.”
“The state of the border and the future of our ties with China cannot be separated. That is the reality,” the minister told the Times of India.
A day later, on Aug. 6, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had a phone call with Jaishankar, in which the Jammu and Kashmir issue was apparently not brought up.
In a press statement issued after the call, State Department Principal Deputy spokesperson Cale Brown said that Pompeo and Jaishankar “discussed bilateral and multilateral cooperation on issues of international concern, including efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, support the peace process in Afghanistan, and address recent destabilizing actions in the region.”
“Secretary Pompeo and Minister Jaishankar reiterated the strength of the United States-India relationship to advance peace, prosperity, and security in the Indo-Pacific and around the globe,” said Brown.