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U.S. presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren come out in support of Pramila Jayapal

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar refused to meet Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal who introduced a Congressional resolution on Kashmir urging India to lift all the restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir

Leading Democratic presidential aspirants — Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — and two other U.S. lawmakers have came out in support of Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who claims External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar cancelled his meeting with a Congressional committee as she was invited to be a part of that group.

Mr. Jaishankar refused to meet Ms. Jayapal who introduced a Congressional resolution on Kashmir urging India to lift all the restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir imposed after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5.

“I am aware of that [Congressional] resolution. I don’t think it’s a fair understanding of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, or a fair characterisation of what the government of India is doing. And I have no interest in meeting [Ms. Jayapal],” Mr. Jaishankar told a group of Indian reporters in Washington on December 19.

“I have an interest in meeting people who are objective and open to discussion but not the people who already made up their minds,” Mr. Jaishankar said in response to a question.

Unacceptable crackdown’

Senators Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren and other lawmakers tweeted on December 20 to express their support for Ms. Jayapal, accusing Mr. Jaishankar and India of trying to silence the voice of a U.S. lawmaker.

“Shutting out U.S. lawmakers who are standing up for human rights is what we expect from authoritarian regimes — not the government of India. Ms. Jayapal is right. She must not be excluded for being outspoken about the unacceptable crackdown on Kashmiris and Muslims,” said Mr. Sanders, who was the first Democratic presidential candidate to oppose India’s abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

“The U.S. and India have an important partnership — but our partnership can only succeed if it is rooted in honest dialogue and shared respect for religious pluralism, democracy, and human rights,” Ms. Warren said in a tweet.

She said the “efforts to silence” Ms. Jayapal “are deeply troubling”.

India has defended the restrictions in Kashmir on the grounds that they were imposed to prevent Pakistan from creating more mischief through proxies and terrorists following the abrogation of Article 370 which ended the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

“It’s wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill,” Kamala Harris, who dropped out of the Democratic presidential race early this month said in a tweet.

The first U.S. Senator of Indian-origin, Ms. Harris said she stood with Ms. Jayapal.

“I’m glad her colleagues in the House did too,” she said, responding to a news report in The Washington Post which said that Mr. Jaishankar refused to attend a meeting of House Foreign Affairs Committee because Ms. Jayapal was also scheduled to attend that meeting along with other lawmakers.

“No foreign government should dictate who is or isn’t allowed into meetings on Capitol Hill,” Congressman Jim McGovern said in a tweet.

“I stand with” Ms. Jayapal and “applaud” Congressman Eliot Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee “and others for doing the same”, he said.

“The partnership between the U.S. and India must be grounded in open, honest conversation between friends,” Mr. McGovern said.

Abruptly cancelled meeting’

Earlier, The Washington Post reported that Mr. Jaishankar “abruptly cancelled a meeting with senior members of Congress this week after U.S. lawmakers refused demands to exclude” Ms. Jayapal from the meeting.

“This only furthers the idea that the Indian government isn’t willing to listen to any dissent at all. The seriousness of this moment should’ve been a reason for a conversation, not dictating who’s in the meeting, which seems very petty,” Ms. Jayapal was quoted as saying by the leading American daily.

However, eminent Indian-American Bharat Barai, who has engaged with Ms. Jayapal in the past on her Kashmir resolution, said the Democratic Congresswoman “with ulterior motives” tried to force herself into the meeting between Mr. Jaishankar and leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, of which she is not a member.

“Reality is that she is not part of House Foreign Affairs Committee. She is a highly biased person. My feeling is that she wanted to indulge in a heated argument with Jaishankar and then go to The Washington Post and get propaganda out of it,” Mr. Barai told PTI.

‘Not falling into the trap’

Mr. Barai, a major fund raiser, has been in close communication with Ms. Jayapal and her office over the past few months on the issue of Kashmir resolution.

Mr. Barai said Mr. Jaishankar took the right call in “not falling into the trap” being laid out by Ms. Jayapal and members of the “so-called progressive group”.

“She is not even a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, leave alone part of the HFAC leadership,” he said, adding that the meeting was sought with the leadership of House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Does [U.S.] Secretary [of State] [Mike] Pompeo meet every Indian parliamentarian when he goes to India? At the most, he will meet those MPs who handle foreign relations committee,” Mr. Barai said.

“Her position on Kashmir issue is well known. She has already made up her mind, which she is not willing to change,” he asserted.

Another Indian-American, who requested anonymity, said it was not India which put conditions for the meeting but the House Foreign Affairs Committee that insisted on unilaterally bringing in a non-member.

“No Foreign Minister of any independent country should be pressured into meeting such politicians with their own agendas,” he said.

“A distorted narrative” is being put out by some about Mr. Jaishankar’s meeting with the U.S. Congress, he said.

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India-Pakistan crisis: Tensions rise over Kashmir after ‘surgical air strike’ on militant training camp

Pakistan has promised to retaliate to any Indian ‘adventurism’

Indian fighter jets crossed the line of control into Pakistan to carry out a bombing raid against a militant training camp, the Indian government said, causing Islamabad to scramble its own aircraft in response.

The operation early on Tuesday was the first major military response to the militant car bombing in Pulwama, Kashmir earlier this month which the Indian government blames on Pakistan.

The Indian aircraft crossed into Pakistan-administered Kashmir and “released a payload” towards Balakot in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, said spokesperson for the Pakistan Armed Forces Asif Ghafoor.

Pakistan called the sortie “a grave aggression by India”. In a brief statement, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said India had violated its territory and that Pakistan reserves the right to respond.

India’s ANI news agency, quoting air force sources, said 12 Mirage 2000 aircraft crossed the line of control at 3.30am on Tuesday and dropped 1,000kg of bombs on militant camps. 

And at an extraordinary media briefing, India’s foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said the raid targeted the largest training base belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group. JeM has claimed responsibility for orchestrating the 14 February Pulwama attack.

Mr Gokhale said there was “credible intelligence that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack”. “In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary”.

The foreign secretary said the camp was led by the brother-in-law of JeM chief Masood Azhar, and that the operation eliminated “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers [and] senior commanders”.

The attack was a response to “the menace of terrorism” and not the Pakistani state, Mr Gokhale said, referring to it as “non-military preemptive action”. He also said the target, a remote forest camp, was selected “to avoid civilian casualties”.  

Prakesh Javadekar, India’s human resource development minister, tweeted: “This was a necessary step for the defence of the country, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given the armed forces a free hand. The whole country stands behind the armed forces.”

Pakistan has played down the success of the operation, with prime minister Imran Khan describing India’s account of it as “fictitious”. 

Its armed forces posted pictures to Twitter that appeared to show nothing more than impact craters from bombs in forested countryside, and officials repeatedly asserted that the Indian sortie caused neither damage to infrastructure nor loss of life.

Armed forces spokesman Ghafoor said: “Indian aircrafts intruded from Muzafarabad sector. Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot. No casualties or damage.”

India has accused the Pakistani state of allowing JeM to operate within its borders, as well as shielding the group’s leader Azhar from being named an international terrorist by the UN Security Council.

The Indian Army’s top commander in Kashmir went as far as to accuse Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of “controlling” the Pulwama attack directly.

The day after the car bombing, which killed 40 Indian paramilitary officers and was the deadliest of its kind in Kashmir, Narendra Modi said India would give a “fitting, jaw-breaking response to this attack”.

Imran Khan, the Pakistani prime minister, had previous said that any “adventurism” on India’s part would be met with retaliation. Later on Tuesday, after convening a meeting of the country’s National Security Committee, Mr Khan accused India of “putting regional peace and stability at grave risk”. “India has committed uncalled for aggression to which Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing,” he said.

Mr Modi has been under domestic pressure to give a show of force in the wake of the Pulwama attack, which has dominated India’s news agenda for almost two weeks. The prime minister is gearing up for a general election which must be held by the end of May.

India has already withdrawn Pakistan’s “most-favoured nation” trading status and whacked a 200 per cent tariff on Pakistani goods, though the measly state of the neighbours’ cross-border commerce makes the impact of these measures limited.  

Both India and Pakistan administer a portion of Kashmir but claim the entire region as their own. The two countries have fought three major wars over the issue, though not since 1971.

The last time India claimed to have carried out a “surgical strike” against militant camps across the line of control was in 2016, and that was allegedly by troops on the ground rather than an air raid. To this day, Pakistan denies that any such incursion took place.

Courtesy: The Independent