New Delhi: A delegation of European Union parliamentarians, who are currently visiting Jammu and Kashmir, said they were “friends” of India and "fully supported the country in its efforts for lasting peace and end of terror" even as one of the delegates insisted that the Centre allow opposition leaders to visit the state to assess the situation on the ground.
The 23 members of European Parliament, who flew into a restive Kashmir Valley pockmarked by shutdowns and clashes for a two-day visit on Tuesday, also condemned the killing of five migrant labourers from West Bengal by terrorists in south Kashmir's Kulgam district.
"If we talk about Article 370, it is India's internal matter. What concerns us is terrorism which is a global menace and we should stand with India in fighting it. There was an unfortunate incident of the killing of five innocent labourers by terrorists. We condemn it," said Henri Malosse from France.
Malosse, a former president of the European Economic and Social Committee, said the team got a briefing from the army and police as well as young activists and exchanged "ideas of peace".
MEP from Poland Ryszard Czarnecki said the international media coverage on Kashmir seems biased.
"Once we go back to our countries we will inform them of what we saw," the leader from the Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc party said.
Newton Dunn from the Liberal Democrat party in the UK described the visit as an "eye-opener".
"We belong to a place Europe which is peaceful after years of fighting. And we want to see India becoming the most peaceful country in the world. And for that we need to stand by India in its fight against global terrorism. This visit has been an eye-opener and we would definitely advocate what we have seen on ground zero," he told reporters.
Thierry Mariani, a member of the Rassemblement National party in France, told the media he had been to India many times and this visit was not to interfere in the internal matter of India but to get a first-hand knowledge of the ground situation in Kashmir.
"Terrorists can destroy a country. I have been to Afghanistan and Syria and I have seen what terrorism has done. We stand with India in its fight against terrorism," he said.
"By calling us fascists, our image has been tarnished. It's better that one should know about us properly before tarnishing our image," he added, referring to some media reports.
The two-day trip, to assess the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, is significant for more than one reason.
It is the first high-level foreign visit to Kashmir after the August 5 decision of the Centre to revoke the state's special status under Article 370 and downsize it into two union territories. And it ended on the last day of Jammu and Kashmir's existence as a state. On Thursday, the state will be bifurcated into the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
The visit is also under stringent attack from the opposition, with several leaders not being allowed to go beyond the Srinagar airport from August 5 on, and also the Shiv Sena, the BJP's ally in Maharashtra.
People in Kashmir said the delegation’s visit was a “managed show” and no genuine person was allowed to meet the EU MPs. Opposition leaders have also accused the government of trying to conceal the “real” situation in the state that has been under lockdown for over 80 days.
The Opposition concern was highlighted by Nicolaus Fest, a part of the delegation, who said the government should allow opposition leaders to visit the Valley. “I think if you let in European Union parliamentarians, you should also let in opposition politicians from India. So there is some kind of disbalance, the government should somehow address it.”
On Tuesday, one of the delegates who spoke to reporters on the banks of the Dal Lake, said “they are being kept away” from meeting many people. “We are conscious of the fact that we are being kept away from some people,” Hermann Tertsch, a parliamentarian from Spain, told News18.
Also, a senior UK politician said the Indian government withdrew with little explanation its invitation to him to be part of the delegation after he demanded to speak with local people without police escort.
On Monday, the MPs met the prime minister in Delhi.
"Their visit to Jammu and Kashmir should give the delegation a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the region of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, apart from giving them a clear view of the development and government priorities of the region," a PMO statement said.
National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, who hosted a lunch for the 27 visitors, also gave them an overview of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
(With inputs from PTI)