Indian American Rep. Ro Khanna, criticized for joining the Congressional Pakistan Caucus in a statement released Sept. 16 by the Hindu American Foundation, defended his membership in the group, saying a dialogue with all stakeholders was a necessary step towards achieving peace in the subcontinent.

The Hindu American Foundation released a statement chastising the Democrat from California, currently serving his second term in the House, for joining the Caucus, founded last May by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Jim Banks, R-Indiana.

Khanna and Lee also sit on the Congressional Caucus for India and Indian Americans, the largest single-country Caucus in the House.

In the statement, HAF noted that representatives from a coalition of 230 Hindu and Indian organizations hand-delivered the letter to Khanna. The letter states that Khanna’s “membership in the Congressional Pakistan Caucus is contrary to both American principles and our geostrategic interests in the Indian Subcontinent and the broader South Asian region.”

The letter also urged him to “withdraw from the Caucus and write directly to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and meet with Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan to address Pakistan’s ongoing use of terrorism to destabilize the region and its rampant and severe human rights violations.”

In a telephone interview shortly after HAF released its statement, Khanna told India-West: “I believe we need peace in the region and need to have a dialogue with all of the stakeholders.”

“We need the assistance of Pakistan to tackle the Taliban so that America can withdraw its forces from Afghanistan,” said Khanna, emphasizing the need for a coherent strategy in the region.

The congressman said he had met with Khan in July. “We spoke Hindustani and I shared with him that my grandfather (Amarnath Vidyalanka), an Indian freedom fighter in Gandhi’s independence movement, always had a hope for reconciliation between India and Pakistan.”

“However, I do not support PM Khan’s recent heated rhetoric regarding the Kashmir issue, and I would caution him to not escalate that language to war,” stated Khanna.

Khanna’s decision to join the Caucus came shortly after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the White House July 22 and met with President Donald Trump. The U.S. president began a protracted kerfuffle during that meeting, blithely stating that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to mediate the Kashmir conflict, a seven-decade feud between India and Pakistan.

The Indian government immediately issued a statement, firmly saying Modi had requested nothing of the sort from Trump. Two weeks later, India withdrew the special autonomous status Kashmir had held since Independence, by revoking Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. The revocation intensified the battle between India and Pakistan, as Khan pleaded with world leaders to weigh in on the issue. The Pakistani prime minister has stated his intentions to bring up the conflict during the United Nations’ General Assembly, which is scheduled to open Sept. 17.

At a town hall meeting Sept. 15 at Morrill Middle School in San Jose, Calif., Khanna told the audience of about 300 people: “I am proud of my faith. Hinduism, at its core, stands for pluralism and non-violence. That is what Gandhi and my grandfather, Amarnath Vidyalankar, preached.”

“At this moment in our nation, at this moment in our world, we desperately need political leaders to stand for pluralism, for tolerance, for respecting people of all faiths, and for human rights. I will stand for those values in Congress,” said Khanna, who received a standing ovation from the diverse audience.

“It struck a nerve. People want leaders who stand up for pluralism,” the congressman later told India-West.

Khanna met Asad Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., on July 26. The ambassador, in a tweet, thanked the congressman for joining the Caucus and for his “keen interest in promoting peace in South Asia.”

The statement released by HAF also urges Khanna to “make a formal statement for the Congressional record highlighting the ethnic cleansing of over 350,000 Kashmiri Hindu Pandits, the indigenous people of the Kashmir Valley who were driven from their homes by a Pakistan sponsored Islamist militant campaign three decades ago.”

“Hindu and Indian American community leaders in attendance said they looked forward to Rep. Khanna following through on the assurances he made on (Sept. 15) about working to address the suffering of both Indian and Pakistani religious minorities at the hands of the Pakistan government,” said HAF in the statement.

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