The US State Department has said it "welcomes" recent steps taken by New Delhi towards restoring political normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, indicating that the matter was taken up during bilateral conversations between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Indian counterpart Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
“We welcome steps to return the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir to full economic and political normalcy consistent with India’s democratic values,” US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said on Wednesday.
"As we’ve said before, Secretary Blinken has had now a couple opportunities to speak to his Indian counterpart, both bilaterally and in the context of the Quad," he added.
When asked to state in categorical terms if the Kashmir issue did indeed feature in the call between Jaishankar and Blinken on 9 February, Price dodged the question.
“I wouldn’t want to go beyond the readout,” he said, referring to the official US statement released after the 9 February call. The US readout said that Blinken and Jaishankar discussed issues of “mutual concern” as well as “regional developments.”
Price’s remarks follow a series of observations by officials from the Joe Biden administration on India's Jammu and Kashmir union territory this month, with the US consistently maintaining that it follows developments in the Kashmir region closely.
Earlier this month, the State Department’s South and Central Asia Bureau lauded New Delhi’s decision to resume 4G internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, almost one and a half years after the Indian Parliament voted to scrap the semi-autonomous status of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state and split it into two federally-administered territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
"We welcome the resumption of 4G mobile internet in India's Jammu & Kashmir. This marks an important step for local residents and we look forward to continued political & economic progress to restore normalcy in J&K,” tweeted the South and Central Asia Bureau of the State Department.
Incidentally, New Delhi’s decision to restart 4G internet in the region, which is disputed between India and Pakistan, came after the Biden administration criticised New Delhi's request to Twitter asking the tech giant to suspend social media accounts which disagreed with the Modi government’s handling of the farmers' protests in the country.
While White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said this month that the US was “concerned” about a crackdown on freedom of speech anywhere in the world, Price, at one of his earlier departmental briefings, commented that Washington DC was “committed” to defending democratic values around the world.
Ties With India, Pakistan Not a “Zero-Sum Game”
At his press briefing on Wednesday, Price also said that US ties with India and Pakistan were “not a zero-sum game,” as he noted that Washington’s relations with Pakistan were important as both the countries shared mutual concerns, in what is construed as a reference to US troop pullout from Afghanistan and Islamabad’s potential role in the security situation across the Durand Line.
“They are not a zero-sum proposition when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. We are – we have productive, constructive relations, and productive and constructive relationships with one does not detract from the relationship we have at the other," Price said. “It does not come at the expense at the relationship we have with the other,” he added.
Price also pointed out that the US has a “global comprehensive strategic partnership” with India, reiterating the importance of New Delhi to Washington in the Indo-Pacific region.