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Govt Permission for EU Delegation’s 'Unofficial' Kashmir Visit Today Signals a Shift in Stand

It comes after increasing international scrutiny on the restrictions in Kashmir as the shutdown persists in the Valley 84 days after the region’s semi-autonomy was taken away.

News18.com

Updated:October 29, 2019, 6:12 AM IST
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Govt Permission for EU Delegation’s 'Unofficial' Kashmir Visit Today Signals a Shift in Stand
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with a members of European Parliament during a call on, in New Delhi, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (Twitter/ PTI Photo)

New Delhi: Nearly three months after the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, the government on Monday allowed a group of 27 European lawmakers to travel there on Tuesday to assess the ground situation. This would be the first visit to the state by a foreign delegation since the nullification of Article 370.

The visit has been described as an “unofficial one”, but it signals a shift in the government stand as it had previously not allowed a US lawmaker to visit the state and had also rejected the requests from the US State Department to send a delegation.

It comes after increasing international scrutiny on the restrictions in Kashmir as the shutdown persists in the Valley 84 days after the region’s semi-autonomy was taken away.

The move, however, invited sharp criticism from the opposition parties as several leaders asked why is a foreign delegation being allowed to visit the state, when even Indian Parliamentarians are not being allowed to visit.

Ahead of their two-day Kashmir visit, these Members of European Parliamentarians (MEPs) met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who told them that an urgent action was needed against those supporting and sponsoring terrorism and asserted that there should be zero tolerance for terrorism.

Government sources said the visit was part of a major diplomatic outreach initiative to counter Pakistan's narrative on the situation in the Valley by allowing these leaders to "see things for themselves".

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval on Monday also briefed these MEPs on cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan, constitutional changes made in the status of Jammu and Kashmir with the revocation of Article 370 and the situation in the valley.

A few weeks ago, the High Representative/Vice-President of the European Parliament had at a plenary debate on the situation in Kashmir expressed concern over the situation there.

"We remain concerned about the situation on the ground, with its restrictions on fundamental freedoms. It is crucial that freedom of movement and means of communication are fully restored as well as access to all essential services.”

"The High Representative conveyed these concerns to the Indian Minister for External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, during their meeting in Brussels on 30 August," said Tytti Tuppurainen, Finnish Minister for European Affairs on behalf of High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini on September 18.

A number of US lawmakers had last week also expressed concern on the deteriorating condition of human rights in Kashmir since the restrictions have been in place.

Officials here said they feel the visit will provide an opportunity to these lawmakers to "see things for themselves" instead of falling prey to "false narratives". As per sources, the delegation will meet J&K administration officials and locals in the valley. During the two-day visit, they are also likely to call on the Governor and interact with the media.

Barring three members, all the members in the delegation are from far-right parties of their countries. All six French MPs are from former presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, all six Polish MPs are from ruling far-right The Law and Justice (PiS) party while four British MPs are from the Brexit Party.

Czech Republic's Tomas Zdechovsky, ahead of the visit, stressed that abrogation of Article 370 was India’s internal matter. "It is the prerogative of Indian government to take internal decisions. We are with India on this," Zdechovsky said.

Another lawmaker said the briefing by Doval was very "informative" and gave a perspective on the entire issue.

The visit is expected to take some heat off the government, which has been criticised by some foreign leaders for imposition of restrictions in the valley as well as not for allowing international organisations to travel there.

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