By Islamuddin Sajid
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AA) - Pakistan on Sunday gave permission to U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen to visit Azad Kashmir and meet the local people to get first hand information about the situation in areas near the Line of Control (LoC) -- a de facto border that divides disputed Jammu and Kashmir between Pakistan and India, an official said.
According to Pakistan Foreign Ministry, senators Chris Van Hollen and Maggie Hassan along with their delegation visited Muzaffarabad, capital city of Pakistan administered Kashmir to see the ground situation and gauge public sentiment following the Indian government’s move on Aug. 5 to scrap the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
President Sardar Masood Khan and Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider urged the U.S. Senators to play their role in saving the people of IOJK [Indian Occupied Kashmir] from India’s repressive brutal measures and pressing India to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute in accordance with UNSC resolutions, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammad Faisal said.
The U.S. Senators said that they shared the human rights concerns and would continue to urge India to lift the curfew and release all prisoners as a first step and expressed their resolve to remain engaged for the resolution of the dispute.
Earlier, the Indian government denied US Senator Chris Van Hollen entry to the Indian Occupied Kashmir. Later, the Pakistani government invited the U.S. delegation to visit the other side of the valley.
Hollen is one of nearly 50 members of the U.S. congress who have expressed concern over the situation in Kashmir.
According to the foreign ministry, the U.S. delegation also met with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in Multan, a city in northeastern Punjab province and discussed the current situation in the region and Indian Occupied Kashmir.
Qureshi also praised Senator’s leadership role in proposing an amendment to the Senate, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Bill, 2020 that explicitly expresses concern about the "humanitarian crisis in Kashmir."
Sen. Chris Van Hollen said that his country is supporting Pakistan's demand to resolve the Kashmir issue according to the wishes of Kashmiri people.
"The world is well aware of the situation in Kashmir and President Trump has offered to play his role in resolving the issue," Hellon said according to state-run Radio Pakistan.
He said politicians and journalists should be allowed to visit the Indian Occupied Kashmir to get first-hand information about the situation there.
Jammu and Kashmir has been under a near-complete lockdown since the Indian government’s revocation of its special status.
Since then, the Indian government has blocked communication access and imposed restrictions on movement to thwart any protests in the region.
Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have repeatedly called on India to lift restrictions and release political detainees.
India said that 93% of the restrictions have been eased in the conflict-ridden region, a claim that Anadolu Agency could not independently verify.
- A disputed region
From 1954 until this Aug. 5, Jammu and Kashmir had special provisions under which it enacted its own laws. The provisions also barred outsiders from settling in or owning land in the territory.
India and Pakistan both hold the region of Kashmir in parts and claim it in full. China also controls part of the contested region, but it is India and Pakistan who have fought two wars over Kashmir.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.
According to several human rights groups, thousands of people have been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.
- US senator visit to North Waziristan
According to the Foreign Ministry on Saturday Sen. Van Hollen also visited North Waziristan, once a strong hold of Taliban militants in northwestern Pakistan bordering with Afghanistan, to see the transformation and return to normalcy after comprehensive military operations in former FATA [Federal Administered Tribal Areas].
Pakistani government’s plans to fence the border with Afghanistan to prevent mutual concerns on unregulated cross border movement were also shared with the Senator.