Permit me a brief relevant sentence about me: I am a New Yorker, having left India when I was 7 years old, and on 9/11 I tasted the dust of WTC. Since then, I see serving the “best interests” of the United States in first eradicating terror — as there are no rights and no law, if terror reigns. I am bold enough to assert that that ought to be America’s Primary Foreign Policy goal: a Terror-Free World. While the tile of today’s Hearing is “Human Rights in South Asia,” its been truncated by some to be the “Kashmir Hearing.” To them, I say, why not call it “Can We Let Terror Reign?,” or better yet, “Let’s Forget History & Public Safety.’ The world is changing, and so is terror. It used to be that an “insult” could trigger a lone-wolf terrorist. After the demented massacre of peaceful worshipers in Christ Church, a Billionaire’s adult kids blew themselves up on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka, thereby trying to make it a Holy War — a war we must not permit to even get started. Terror is bad enough; we need not drag Religion into it. This begs the question of “sequencing,” for as we put our socks on before our shoes, we must first eradicate terror and protect public safety, so law and order may govern society, and any violation of rights — be they constitutional, statutory, contractual or human rights — the courts can fashion a just remedy one-case at a time.
America is, and must remain, a force for good, and our precious freedoms, which we all take for granted — the very nectar of American Exceptionalism born of our cherished separated powers regime — is why the good folks around the world love us. But freedoms require, as we well know thanks to Abraham Lincoln, sometimes even a Civil War, with suspension of habeas corpus, to first keep the nation united, restore public safety, and only then, can a government “of, by and for” the people govern justly. The United States has two co-equal political branches. A fact often not well comprehended by nations around the world. Yet, to them, we, the United States, the Executive and the Congress — have to make clear that we are a friend of South Asia in general, and the Sub-Continent in particular. India is why Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492, and hence, India can claim to be America’s birth mother. The Indian Constitution was drafted by a Columbia Law School graduate, Dr B R Ambedkar, who liberally took our Constitution and Supreme Court precedents and wrote India’s Constitution. It is this singular fact that we can root our relationship in, and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise of “indivisibility” made in his Joint Address to Congress, let freedom ring all over South Asia. Pakistan’s celebrity PM Imran Khan is a man I respect and have much hope in, for he knows what a rules-based order is, given his super-star status of a cricketer. He knows that Terrorists have taken residence in his country, and are a threat to our service members, as well as his neighbors in Afghanistan and India. That nations use Terror as part of statecraft cannot be permitted. I’d argue even more: counterbalance is a failed pillar of statecraft, and ought be abandoned.
It is clear to me for some time that we must maintain our military base in Afghanistan permanently, even before I visited Tajikistan in May 2019, where I had candid discussions with Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin, and then spoke at the High Level joint conference on Counter-Terrorism convened by Tajikistan and and UN-OCT. We have remained in Germany and Japan for 70 years. If we are to contain Terror successfully in South Asia by “nipping it in the bud,” and not wait for another attack in Times Square, we must be close enough to act.
Watching Brexit is torture. The Partition of 1947 was much worse, and Lord Mountbatten, and his erstwhile Major Brown, played fast, loose and dirty. I wrote an OpEd that was published in various papers, entitled: "Kashmir - Heaven on Earth; Only If Your Remember Louisiana and Alaska." A simple point worth making: Kashmir was attached to India by a legal Decree duly signed by its then-Hindu ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, several months after the needlessly bloody Partition when tens of millions were killed. Like our acquisition of Louisiana from Napoleon, and Alaska from the Czar of Russia, no then resident of Louisiana or Alaska could force us, the United States, to hold an election so the residents could become an independent nation. Their choice was to “love us,” or “leave us.” Same applied to India in 1947. What has transpired, to be kind, is nothing short of malpractice of relevant leaders, well recorded in history, with ordinary people who just want their version of the “American Dream” paying a heavy price.
Like Lincoln, PM Modi took extraordinary steps: first, legal amendments to have legal authority, and then, second, installing a massive force to prevent fatalities in Kashmir from motivated fire-fights by cross-border or home-grown Terrorists. He said he did this to bring the promise of equal rights and freedoms to all Indians. His actions on August 5, 2019 were judicious, as they were careful. No war broke out. Terrorists were immobilized, as communications and internet were cut off. India, it seems, learned from her Mumbai Terror attack. Indeed, landing at JFK airport, when standing in line for immigration inspection, there is no phone service or internet connection. Safety matters. Indeed, I owe India an apology, as when she suffered her Mumbai Terror attack on November 26, 2008, when Jews and Americans were singled out for death by Pakistan-based Terrorists, I joined in arguing for “restraint.” I was wrong. Terror needs to be eradicated, so our rights and freedoms mean something.
Edited excerpts from a testimony by Ravi Batra, Chair, National Advisory Council for South Asian Affairs in Washington to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation on: “Human Rights in South Asia: Views from the State Department and the Region” 22 October