US Congress critical of India on Kashmir: Beyond concern for human rights lies domestic political compulsions and Islamist agenda

  • Omar called India's decision on Kashmir part of 'BJP's Hindu nationalism project' and wanted to know why the Trump administration is not pressing India on holding a plebiscite in Kashmir to give Kashmiris the right to self-determination

  • Omar may not be aware that many of nearly two million people who have found their names outside the NRC list are Hindus or of other ethnic origins, and not just Muslims

  • Second, there is a well established quasi-judicial appeals process to help those who have not found their names on the list. To compare this with the situation in Myanmar reeks of mischief and subversion of facts

Between the twin stools of US compulsion to end the 18-year-war and secure an exit from Afghanistan (for which it needs Pakistan’s help), and Washington's domestic politics where frustrated Democrats are spoiling for a fight with the Donald Trump administration because they fear another drubbing in 2020, India got the wrong end of the stick in Washington on Tuesday during a US Congressional hearing led by Democrat Congressman Brad Sherman.

It may not have helped India's cause that the Congressional hearing, organised by the Asia Subcommittee of the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), was packed with Democrat lawmakers who may have been irked by the show of open bonhomie between Narendra Modi and Trump as was evident during the recent 'Howdy Modi' event in Houston. The US President was the showstopper at Modi’s 'party' organised by Indian Americans in Texas, and both leaders had profuse words of praise for each other.

It is possible that Democrats felt India has moved slightly away from a bipartisan approach towards US domestic politics when Modi appeared to endorse Trump’s candidature for a second term in 2020 (though India hotly denies this), and on Tuesday they chose the HFAC hearing on “Human Rights in South Asia” to both turn the heat on India’s Kashmir policy and take aim at the Trump administration for coming out in support of Modi government’s move to abrogate Article 370.

But there was a lot going on behind the scenes, too, during the hearing where India’s Kashmir policy came into sharp focus, and officials from the Trump administration, who had earlier in the day issued a balanced statement before the sub-committee on the human rights situation in South Asia, were frequently forced to defend their and India’s position.

 US Congress critical of India on Kashmir: Beyond concern for human rights lies domestic political compulsions and Islamist agenda

File image of Democrat Representative Ilhan Omar. AP

To the naked eye it may appear that certain US lawmakers were concerned about the alleged "human rights violations by the Indian state in Kashmir" and were expressing their anxiety while taking Trump administration to task for not being hard enough on Modi administration, but it didn't take long before Hinduphobic lawmakers such as Ilhan Omar revealed their bigotry and intolerance for facts.

Omar, a Somalia-born Muslim Democrat from Minnesota, stayed true to her Islamist credentials and made a series of ill-informed and ill-judged remarks, tried to bully and malign a senior Indian journalist who was testifying before the panel, and brought her own malcontents to the forum to drive her Islamo-fascist agenda. This is the same Congresswoman from Minnesota whose reference to 9/11 as "some people did something" had earlier raked up huge controversy in the US.

Omar has been frequently accused of being a terror apologist and anti-Semitic and her extreme views have often caused disruption within even the Democrats. On Tuesday, she broke away from traditional US approach and launched a vituperative tirade against India. During her questioning of Alice G Wells, acting assistant secretary, bureau of South and Central Asia, Omar exposed her lack of basic knowledge on Kashmir.

Omar called India’s decision on Kashmir part of "BJP's Hindu nationalism project" and wanted to know why the Trump administration is not pressing India on holding a plebiscite in Kashmir to give Kashmiris the right to self-determination.

It is unclear who briefed the Minnesota lawmaker, but Omar should know that UN resolution that calls for plebiscite in Kashmir as a necessary precondition makes it imperative for Pakistan to relinquish its hold over PoK and make a complete withdrawal from the region before. This is not just improbable, but infructuous. Since the time that it continues to hold onto chunks of the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir that lawfully acceded to India in 1947, Pakistan has bartered away a portion of Kashmir (which it illegally occupies) to China.

Right now, China and Pakistan together hold around 55 percent of the entire land that legally acceded to India, and therefore talks of any plebiscite that Omar made on Tuesday are complete nonsense and betray a surprising lack of knowledge. It is unclear why she was even allowed to sit on the panel when her understanding of a complex issue is weak.

Omar also trained her guns on India’s Supreme Court-monitored National Registrar for Citizens (NRC). She called the situation in Assam "as bad as Kashmir if not worse" and symptomatic of BJP government's alleged hatred of Muslims. She seemed to suggest that almost 2 million Muslims were being put in "detention camps" by the Hindu majoritarian government in Assam and accused India of creating a situation that led to genocide of Rohingya Muslims.

"This is how the Rohingya genocide started," Omar said, referring to the bloody campaign by Myanmar against the mostly Muslim people. "At what point do we no longer share values with India? Are we waiting for the Muslims in Assam to be put in those camps?" Omar asked of Wells during the hearing.

This is a stunning misrepresentation of facts and conflation of issues to present a damaging narrative against India. Omar may not be aware that many of nearly two million people who have found their names outside the NRC list are Hindus or of other ethnic origins, and not just Muslims. Second, there is a well established quasi-judicial appeals process to help those who have not found their names on the list. To compare this with the situation in Myanmar reeks of mischief and subversion of facts.

Not just this, Omar also tried to discredit Aarti Tikkoo Singh, a senior journalist with The Times of India who has done extensive on-ground reportage from Kashmir for decades, accused her of being a government shill and sought to gag her voice during the hearing.

"Ms Singh, a reporter’s job is to find the objective truth about what is happening and report it to the public… I am aware of how the narrative shaped by reporting can distort the truth. I am also very aware of how it could be limited to sharing only the official side of the story. The press is at its worst when it is a mouthpiece for a government. In your version of the story, the only problems in Kashmir are caused by what you call militants, the only people protesting to break away from India; and are all nefariously backed by Pakistan."

Interestingly, the statement by Trump administration before the sub-committee mentions clearly the role played by Pakistan in preventing peace and normalcy to return to Kashmir. It puts the onus on Pakistan to act and create the necessary condition for dialogue — in other words a validation of Indi’s position.

"Pakistan's harboring of terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammed, which seek to foment violence across the Line of Control, is destabilising, and Pakistani authorities remain accountable for their actions. We believe the foundation of any successful dialogue between India and Pakistan is based on Pakistan taking sustained and irreversible steps against militants and terrorists in its territory," read the statement.

Omar is a classical example of Islamists who have borrowed from Leftist discourse to mask their Islamo-fascist intent and couching their agenda in a framework of "social justice" to deflect criticism. As Somalia-born atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali had written in a piece for Wall Street Journal titled Can Ilhan Omar Overcome Her Prejudice? "Islamists have understood well how to couple Muslim anti-Semitism with the American Left's vague notion of "social justice." They have succeeded in couching their agenda in the progressive framework of the oppressed versus the oppressor. Identity politics and victimhood culture also provide Islamists with the vocabulary to deflect their critics with accusations of "Islamophobia," "white privilege" and "insensitivity."

On Tuesday during the hearing Indian journalist Singh, the subject of Omar’s attack, tried to defend herself and her credentials as a journalist, but she was frequently interrupted and prevented from narrating the real situation in Kashmir which she, by virtue of her extensive work in the troubled region, was best placed to relate.

Singh also made the point that western English media has misrepresented facts and narrative on Kashmir, a charge that India’s foreign minister S Jaishankar brought against the “English-speaking liberal media” during the US-India strategic partnership forum in New Delhi on Monday.

Jaishankar, who had recently been on a hurricane tour of the US where he engaged with, among others, US media and the think tank community, said during a panel discussion on Monday that "by the time I actually went to the US in September which was about six weeks after the event (Abrogation of Article 370), we had made considerable progress. I think it was a much more difficult challenge with the media, especially the English-speaking liberal media because partly they were very ideological about it, they had strong preset views on this subject".

It has been pointed out that not since the 1998 nuclear tests that US Congress has been so critical of India, and its press so inimical towards India’s policies but it is also pertinent to remember that US Congress has a limited role in influencing US foreign policy which is the prerogative of the President and his team. What we saw on Tuesday, despite heroic attempts from the likes of Omar, Democrats trying to attack India for reasons already mentioned, and the Trump administration trying to defend India and focusing on the subversive role played by Pakistan. We are in for interesting times ahead.

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Updated Date: Oct 23, 2019 19:31:09 IST