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US Congressman vows to 'fight for Kashmir'

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
July 28, 2009 08:56 IST
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United States Congressman Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who was in the 1980s and 1990s India's bete-noire on Capitol Hill, railing against New Delhi for its alleged human rights violations in Punjab at the bidding of the separatist Council of Khalistan, after a considerable hiatus when he took a sabbatical against castigating India, seems to have had a relapse, this time at the urging of the Kashmiri American Council and the pro-Pakistan lobby.

Burton, who was among half-a-dozen US lawmakers speaking at the 10th International Peace Conference hosted by the KAC and the Association of Humanitarian Lawyers on Capitol Hill, vowed, "As the co-chairman of the Caucus that deals with the Pakistani Caucus and working on Kashmir, I will continue as long as I am in Congress, to do everything we can to bring about some positive change up there."

He argued that "since 1948, the people of Kashmir have been offered and promised a plebiscite on freedom -- whether they should be with India or Pakistan or have complete freedom -- and that's something that has not happened."

"Here we are 61 years later, and we are still hoping that one day there will be peace and tranquillity in that beautiful, beautiful part of the world that I want to visit one of these days before long," Burton said.

Burton bemoaned "the number of Indian troops that are still up there and keeping everything under wraps. They are patrolling the streets and there are still some horrible tragedies that are taking place -- I heard of gang-raping of young women, I've heard of murders and tortures and all kinds of things, and until just the last few months, we haven't heard of these new things that have been going on."

He pledged to the more than 350 participants at the conference that once he receives all of this information and documentation, he would "once again go to the floor of the Congress and make sure the entire world and the Congressional Record has all these tragedies accounted for, so that the American people and the people across the world will have more information about the horrible things that the people of Kashmir are having to go through."

Burton promised that he would "keep fighting for Kashmir. I know, I've said that for a long time," and he reiterated that as soon as he receives all of the information and documented evidence of the alleged atrocities in Kashmir, "you may rest assured, I'll make it public so that the world know what's going on over there. And, we will continue to fight. I will continue to fight."

He recalled that he had visited India and Pakistan a couple of years ago and "I met with Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh and President (Pervez) Musharraf before the change took place. We thought we were making some progress -- we were trying to talk to the Indian government to move the troops out of Srinagar and back away from Kashmir to give the people there a change to start moving toward a government of their own, where they can truly have a representative government."

"Unfortunately, although we thought we were making progress, it did not happen. But as long as I am here, I'll keep fighting for you," he said to rousing applause.

Burton also lauded Pakistan saying that it has "been one of our great friends for a long, long time. Back during the Cold War, Pakistan was always there and I consider Pakistan a great friend."

He said, "We are seeing a little difficulty over there now with the Taliban and the Al Qaeda and it's difficult for the government of Pakistan as well as for the people that live there. But, as long as I am in Congress, my friendship for Pakistan will continue."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC