Political parties in Indian Kashmir look forward to Biden’s assurances

·3-min read

Given the US Democratic Party’s stance on restoring rights, Joe Biden's election victory has instilled a sense of hope in the political ranks of Indian-administered Kashmir.

In public statements and policy documents, especially during the election campaign, both Biden and Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris have suggested their administration would do more than that of Donald Trump to hold India to account over its actions in Kashmir.

On the back of the US election results, former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah were quick to comment on the victory of Biden and Harris.

“Their win gives hope to the rest of the world that right-wing extremism and those who sow division and hatred will sooner or later be relegated to the pages of history like Donald Trump,” Mufti wrote.

Waheed Para of the People's Democratic Party told RFI: “We hope sanity will prevail and that the new leadership understands how minorities continue to suffer in various countries. Majoritarianism has been the order of the day and we hope the new administration looks sympathetically.”

Biden in bat for Kashmir

According to a policy paper posted on his campaign website in June, Biden has asked the Indian government to take “all necessary steps to restore the rights of all the people of Kashmir”.

“Restrictions on dissent, such as preventing peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the internet, weaken democracy,” the website said.

Harris has been even more outspoken saying: “We have to remind Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world.”

In October 2019, when she was a candidate in the Democratic primaries, Harris also said: “There is a need to intervene if the situation demands.”

In August 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status and downgraded the state into two federally governed territories – a move condemned by most regional political groups.

The move sparked widespread unrest, prompting Indian security forces to enforce strict curfews and curtail public movement. Many of Kashmir’s citizens consider the new policy to be part of a systematic campaign of oppression from India's Hindu nationalist government.

India has defended its move, saying the special status provisions only gave rise to terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir.

“I hope the Biden administration will turn its eye on the abuses that have been heaped on us in due course. Given their pronouncements, it gives us hope,” Faizal Khan, a lecturer, told RFI.

New US approach?

One of the things that has characterised Trump's presidency was his willingness to overlook human rights issues, and to work closely with authoritarian regimes.

Trump has often sidestepped questions on India's crackdown in Kashmir and ignored the issue of declining religious freedom in India.

Experts believe that a Biden administration would not raise the issue publicly for the moment, and would instead adopt a wait-and-watch policy.

“I don’t think the Americans will push hard on Kashmir or on human rights issues, especially in public for the moment. At best there would be some private prodding from the US,” Happymon Jacob, international affairs expert, told RFI.

“As a result, the government of India will be careful how it deals with Kashmir going forward. Given the two front situation that India faces and the strengthening of the China-Pakistan alliance, Washington would not berate New Delhi that easily now.”