The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs on Saturday said it remained concerned by New Delhi’s ongoing lockdown of India-held Kashmir and hope for a speedy return to normalcy.
In a posting on Twitter, senior U.S. diplomat Alice Wells said she was closely following a guided trip organized by the Indian government to the disputed region for foreign diplomats. “Closely following U.S. ambassador to India and other foreign diplomats’ recent trip to Jammu and Kashmir. Important step,” she said. “We remain concerned by detention of political leaders and residents, and internet restrictions. We look forward to a return to normalcy,” she added.
India-held Kashmir has had restricted internet access for over 150 days since Delhi unilaterally scrapped the special autonomy for the region enshrined in the country’s constitution. At the same time, political leaders have been placed in detention, while hundreds of locals have reportedly been arrested without formal charge.
On Thursday, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government arranged a “guided tour” to the disputed territory for foreign diplomats in a bid to show them that the situation was “normal.” This was the first such trip to the region since Delhi’s actions of August 2019. Indian media reported that diplomats of European Union nations had refused the invitation, saying they would prefer to be able to meet locals freely and without requiring Delhi’s guidance. Delhi claimed this was false, and that not every interested ambassador could be accommodated on this trip.
Independent news portals have claimed the visiting diplomats were driven in a motorcade from the airport in Srinagar amid tight security, and the areas they were allowed to visit were selected entirely by Indian officials.
South Asian Affairs head Wells is set to visit New Delhi on Jan. 15 for a three-day trip that includes talks with senior Indian officials on bilateral and regional issues. She is then due to proceed to Islamabad for a similar, three-day visit from Jan. 19 in which regional concerns, as well as the Afghanistan peace process, are slated to be discussed.