J&K: More foreign groups may follow, hints govt

NEW DELHI: Was an invitation to a group of EU lawmakers to visit Kashmir a calculated risk or a diplomatic miscalculation?
As the group of 23 members of European parliament travelled to Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday, being the first group of foreigners to be taken to the Valley after the August 5 decision to rescind J&K’s special status, government sources indicated this was not a one-off thing and that more official representatives from foreign nations will be progressively facilitated to visit Kashmir to assess the ground situation for themselves.
The current visit so far has entailed high level briefings by the national security adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval, meetings with the Prime Minister and external affairs minister in New Delhi, Army and administration briefings in Srinagar as well as some civil society outreach.
The engagement with EU parliament members has grown to a wider outreach by the government. On Tuesday, India’s envoy to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin also met a group of European MEPs in his office in New York to discuss, according to official sources, “multilateralism, peacekeeping, human rights and disarmament”. Tweeting afterwards, Akbaruddin said, “MEPs from 10 countries from 5 different groups in European Parliament had a very engaging discussion for an hour.” Among those who met Akbaruddin were the chairpersons of foreign affairs, human rights and defence committees of the European parliament.
The group in India initially consisted of 27 members, but only 23 travelled to Kashmir. In the past 24 hours, the political affiliations of the EU lawmakers has stirred some controversy as has the source of their invitation. The biggest criticism against the delegation is that most of them come from right-wing or centre-right parties, even if some of them are ruling parties in countries like Poland and Hungary. The government has taken a lot of flak from opposition parties because Indian politicians have not been allowed into the Valley. In addition, the fact that mainstream politicians in Kashmir remain in detention is problematic for the government, particularly as they try to project a situation of normalcy in the Valley to the EU delegation.
Top level sources said to TOI, “the argument of ‘internationalisation’ of Kashmir as a result of this visit is wrong.” It’s ‘internationalisation’ when a foreign government (such as Trump administration) offers to mediate, they said. “This exercise is for India to influence international opinion, the same way every country engages foreign opinion makers for their core interests, and not very different from say, lobbying the FATF or the UNSC’s 1267 Committee.”
Pakistan, the sources pointed out, regularly ferries international diplomats to PoK to influence opinion against India. “India will play the international influence game” they said, because Kashmir was a “unique geography” which had an international dimension that needed India to be proactive internationally.
In the recent debates in the European parliament and in the UNHRC, India has taken some fire from the more liberal lawmakers, as well as from members of the Labour Party of the UK, or even the Democrats in the US. The current exercise is a response and will continue, sources said. The government came under criticism from both opposition and media that it was executing a reversal after arguing that rescinding Article 370 was an “internal matter” of India.
The EU delegation consisted of members from the ruling Law and Justice Party of Poland, and opposition parties from France (Rassemblement Party) and AfD of Germany among others. “What will India do when these very people whom the government is courting now turn around and target Indians from say an anti-immigration platform?” said others.
In response to this criticism, Swapan Dasgupta, MP, told TOI, “There are friends of India who belong to different political persuasions in Europe. It is not our business to assess their positions on internal EU matters.” Government officials said foreign countries regularly engage Indian opposition politicians as part of their own diplomatic and political outreach, which for many years used to be the right-wing BJP, currently in power.
To the question of why the government chose EU MEPs over say, the US some of whose Congressmen have repeatedly been denied permission to visit the Valley, top government sources said this had to do with the fact that India had to counter Pakistan-sponsored anti-India campaigning. This has been done through Pakistani diaspora and presented as important vote banks in some countries. India, they said, had to counter it by engaging other political opinion makers.

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