Far-right MPs from EU visit Kashmir, sparking criticism

Some members of an EU delegation, comprising parliamentarians from mainly far-right parties, during a boat ride on Dal Lake in Srinagar on Tuesday. It is the first visit by an international delegation to Jammu and Kashmir since the government of Indi
Some members of an EU delegation, comprising parliamentarians from mainly far-right parties, during a boat ride on Dal Lake in Srinagar on Tuesday. It is the first visit by an international delegation to Jammu and Kashmir since the government of India scrapped Article 370 and decided to split the state into two union territories on Aug 5.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Indian opposition MPs want entry to region which had its autonomy revoked in August

A group of 23 European Union parliamentarians, mainly from far-right parties, said at the end of their visit to Kashmir that they did not want to interfere in Indian politics and just wanted a chance to see the situation in the volatile region.

The two-day visit, the first by a foreign delegation since the Indian government restricted travel to Kashmir, was aimed at blunting international criticism over a communication blockade that accompanied the removal of the special status or autonomy enjoyed by the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

But Indian opposition politicians criticised the visit, pointing out that they were restricted from visiting Kashmir, and that the EU team consisted of mainly far-right parliamentarians, from the UK, Poland, Germany and Italy. The team included MPs from Britain's Brexit Party, a eurosceptic political party, Poland's right-wing Law and Justice party, Italy's Northern League party and German nationalist party Alternative for Germany, which are all known for their anti-immigration stand.

French parliamentarian Henri Malosse said: "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."

Five migrant workers were killed on Tuesday during the delegation's visit, pointing to the volatility of the region.

The parliamentarians went on a boat ride on Dal Lake and were briefed on the situation by the Indian Army.

The trip attracted criticism from different quarters, with Indian opposition leaders asking the government to allow opposition MPs to visit Kashmir.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said: "I don't have an objection to the European Union Parliament delegation visiting Jammu and Kashmir. What I object to is that the MPs of this country are not being allowed to go to Jammu and Kashmir."

At least one visiting parliamentarian agreed. Mr Nicolaus Fest said: "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."

The visit also comes ahead of the government today formally splitting the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two, a decision taken along with removal of autonomy.

Kashmir, which is at the heart of a conflict between India and Pakistan, has a troubled history with thousands of people killed by violence fuelled by a separatist insurgency which began in 1989. India has accused Pakistan of fuelling militancy, a charge Pakistan has denied. The area has remained volatile, with militant attacks and violent protests.

Since autonomy was removed on Aug 5, there have been sporadic attacks by militants. They have targeted the apple trade by killing truck drivers transporting apples and attacking traders.

 

On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and national security adviser Ajit Doval met members of the delegation.

The Prime Minister's Office said the visit "should give the delegation a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh", and that Mr Modi highlighted the importance of close international cooperation to fight terrorism.

The visit comes even as the Indian government has restricted access to Kashmir. Earlier this month, US Congressman Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, said he was denied permission to visit Srinagar. Foreign journalists, too, have not been given permission to visit Kashmir.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2019, with the headline 'Far-right MPs from EU visit Kashmir, sparking criticism'. Print Edition | Subscribe