U.S. President-elect Joe Biden inducts second Kashmir-born expert in his team, leading to speculation of a boost to international human rights groups’ activism on Kashmir

Published : January 15, 2021 14:58 IST

Sameera Fazili. She will be the deputy director of the National Economic Council in Joe Biden's core team. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Aisha Shah. She was inducted into Biden’s team as partnership manager of Digital Strategy team of White House in December 2020. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Sameera Fazili, a Kashmiri origin woman, has been appointed by United States President-elect Joe Biden in his core team ahead of his oath-taking ceremony scheduled for January 20. Sameera Fazili will be the deputy director of the National Economic Council (NEC) focussed on manufacturing, innovation and domestic competition. Earlier in December 2020, another Kashmir-born woman, Aisha Shah, was inducted into Biden’s team as partnership manager of Digital Strategy team of White House.

Aisha Shah was born in Kashmir and raised in Louisiana. She is currently an Advancement Specialist for the Smithsonian Institution. Sameera Fazili, on the other hand, was director for engagement for the community and economic development department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Aisha Shah also served as the partnerships manager at Joe Biden-Kamala Harris campaign for the U.S. presidential elections.

Sameera Fazili has prior experience of serving in the Barack Obama administration as a senior adviser at the NEC and at the Treasury Department, where she was posted at the offices of Domestic Finance and International Affairs. She is a second-generation American, born in Williamsville, New York.

Hailing the appointment of Sameera Fazili and other office-bearers, Biden said in a statement: “Delivering results to Americans grappling with the many challenges facing our country will require an experienced, innovative and principled White House team. The policy leaders announced today are accomplished public servants who are ready to build back better for this country immediately.”

Although Biden’s policy on India, especially vis-a-vis the legislative changes made in Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019, is yet to be clearly articulated, individual Democratic Party senators had made several critical observations against India in the matter. On October 22, 2019, when a U.S. congressional panel met to assess human rights concerns in South Asia, Kashmir dominated its discourse. Several Congressmen strongly criticised New Delhi’s actions in Kashmir and its decision to “lock down” the Kashmir Valley from August 5, 2019, after the Narendra Modi government unilaterally abrogated Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

From calling the situation in Kashmir a “humanitarian crisis” to questioning the spate of detentions, including that of minors and the political leadership of Kashmir, to linking the government’s decision to its majoritarian agenda, there was a no-holds-barred discussion over Kashmir.

Among those most critical of India was Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Somalia-born Democrat from Minnesota, who issued a thorough condemnation of the “Hindu nationalist project” of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Referring to some of the recent exercises of the BJP government such as those relating to Article 370 and the National Register of Citizens in Assam, Ilhan Omar wondered how there could a partnership between India and the U.S. based on shared values: “At what point do we no longer share values with India? Are we waiting for the Muslims in Assam to be put in those camps?”

There has been much speculation in New Delhi and Srinagar’s power corridors that under a Democratic Party government, there could be a boost to international human rights groups’ activism on Kashmir. The appointment of two Kashmiri-born experts in Biden’s core team is being seen as an indicator of the same.

It is pertinent to add that Sameera Fazili in one of her previous stints worked at Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, and while posted there she testified before the U.S. Congress on the religious freedom of Muslims in western Europe. Her experience in international human rights and development includes work at the World Health Organisation and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Her work has taken her to human rights violation hotspots such as Palestine and Kashmir.