US presses India on Kashmir rights, seeks lower tensions

Kashmiris shout slogans in Anchar neighbourhood after Friday prayers in Srinagar on September 20, 2019 during restrictions following scrapping of the special constitutional status for Kashmir by the Indian government. (REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui)
Updated 27 September 2019

US presses India on Kashmir rights, seeks lower tensions

  • Trump met separately this week with both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan
  • India in August revoked the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, which had been India’s only Muslim-majority state

UNITED NATIONS: The United States wants New Delhi to quickly ease restrictions imposed in Kashmir, a senior official said Thursday, declaring President Donald Trump’s willingness to mediate to ease tensions between India and Pakistan over the territory.
Trump met separately this week with both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who are both due to address the UN General Assembly on Friday.
While Trump has forged a close bond with Modi, joining the Hindu nationalist at a massive rally on Sunday in Houston where the Indian leader boasted of his actions in Kashmir, a senior official said that the United States had concerns over the clampdown in the region.
“We hope to see rapid action — the lifting of the restrictions and the release of those who have been detained,” Alice Wells, the top State Department official for South Asia, told reporters.
India in August revoked the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir, which had been India’s only Muslim-majority state. It detained a wide range of political leaders and restricted communications for ordinary people.
While some measures have been eased, Internet and cellular service has remained off for well over a month.
“The United States is concerned by widespread detentions, including those of politicians and business leaders, and the restrictions on the residents of Jammu and Kashmir,” Wells said.
“We look forward to the Indian government’s resumption of political engagement with local leaders and the scheduling of the promised elections at the earliest opportunity,” she said.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and served as the trigger for two of their full-fledged wars.
“The world would benefit from reduced tensions and increased dialogue between the two countries and, given these factors, the president is willing to mediate if asked by both parties,” she said.
India, however, has long rejected any outside role on Kashmir and quickly shot down the idea after Trump mentioned mediation in a July meeting with Khan.
The Modi government says that its actions will spur economic development in Kashmir and defends the restrictions as temporary means to ensure calm and prevent Pakistan from meddling.
Kashmir inflames passions across South Asia, with right-wing Hindu activists long seeking to rescind its special status within India — and Pakistani politicians saber-rattling over the Himalayan territory for decades.
Khan has used his New York trip to make fiery denunciations of Modi, even likening his ideology to Nazi Germany.
Wells characterized Khan’s comments as unhelpful, saying: “A lowering of rhetoric would be welcome, especially between two nuclear powers.”
She also questioned why Khan was not also speaking out about China, which has detained an estimated one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims.
“I would like to see the same level of concern expressed also about Muslims who have been detained in western China, literally in concentration-like conditions,” she said.
China is a major diplomatic and economic partner of Pakistan. Khan, asked about the Uighurs at a think tank on Monday, declined comment, saying that Pakistan had a “special relationship” with China and would only raise issues in private.
The United States has sought to use the annual United Nations summit to build up international pressure on China over its treatment of the Uighurs.
Rights groups and witnesses say that China has been trying to forcibly stop Islamic traditions and integrate Uighurs into the majority Han population. China says it is providing vocational training and discouraging extremism.


Dozens killed as Armenia-Azerbaijan fighting enters second day

Updated 35 sec ago

Dozens killed as Armenia-Azerbaijan fighting enters second day

  • Armenia and Azerbaijan long at odds over Nagorno-Karabakh
  • Clashes endanger oil and gas supplies from the region

YEREVAN/BAKU: Azerbaijani and Armenian forces battled for a second day on Monday after dozens were killed in an outbreak of heavy fighting that has raised fears of an all-out war between the longtime enemies.

Defense officials in both countries confirmed that intense clashes had continued overnight after erupting on Sunday along the frontlines of Nagorny Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian region that has broken away from Azerbaijan.

The separatists said on Monday that 15 more of their fighters had been killed, bringing the total reported death toll from both sides to 39.

With each side blaming the other for the latest fighting, world leaders have urged calm as fears rise of a full-scale conflict that could draw in regional powers Russia and Turkey.

Ex-Soviet Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a territorial dispute over Nagorny Karabakh for decades, with deadly fighting flaring up earlier this year and in 2016.

The region declared its independence after a war in the early 1990s that claimed 30,000 lives but is not recognized by any country — including Armenia — and is still considered part of Azerbaijan by the international community.

The Karabakh defense ministry said on Monday 32 of its fighters had been killed in the latest clashes. Seven civilian fatalities were reported earlier, including an Azerbaijani family of five and a woman and child on the Armenian side.

An Armenian Defence Ministry image shows the destruction of Azeri military vehicles during clashes between Armenian separatists and Azerbaijan in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. - (AFP / Armenian Defence Ministry)

Azerbaijan has yet to announce military casualties but Armenian defense ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan claimed that “dozens of corpses of Azerbaijani soldiers” lay on territory won back overnight.

She said heavy fighting continued on Monday morning along the frontline and claimed Armenian forces had won back positions taken Sunday by Azerbaijan.

But Baku claimed further advances.

Azerbaijani forces “are striking enemy positions using rocket artillery and aviation... and have taken several strategic positions around the village of Talysh,” the defense ministry said.

“The enemy is retreating,” it added.

Armenian military officials said Azerbaijani forces were continuing to attack rebel positions using heavy artillery, while Azerbaijan’s defense ministry accused separatist forces of shelling civilian targets in the town of Terter.

Azerbaijan's forces destroy Armenian an anti-aircraft system at the contact line of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. Fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out Sunday around the separatist region. (Armenian's Defense Ministry via AP)

Baku claimed to have killed 550 separatist troops, a report denied by Armenia.

The escalation has stirred an outpouring of patriotic fervor in both countries.

“We have been waiting for this day for so long. The fighting must not stop until we force Armenia to return our lands,” Vidadi Alekperov, a 39-year-old waiter in Baku, said.

“I’ll happily go to the battlefield.”

In Yerevan, 67-year-old Vardan Harutyunyan said Armenia had been anticipating the attack.

“The (Karabakh) question can only be resolved militarily. We are not afraid of a war,” he said.

Fighting between Muslim Azerbaijan and majority-Christian Armenia threatened to embroil regional players Russia, which is in a military alliance with Yerevan, and Turkey, which backs Baku.

Armenia accused Turkey of meddling in the conflict and sending mercenaries to the battlefield.

France, Germany, Italy, the United States, the European Union and Russia have urged a cease-fire.

Armenia and Karabakh declared martial law and military mobilization Sunday, while Azerbaijan imposed military rule and a curfew in large cities.

Talks to resolve the conflict — one of the worst to emerge from the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union — have been largely stalled since a 1994 cease-fire agreement.

Analysts said on Sunday international brokers needed to step up their efforts to prevent an even worse escalation.

France, Russia and the United States have mediated peace efforts as the “Minsk Group” but the last big push for a peace deal collapsed in 2010.