SRINAGAR – Nearly three months after its decision to scrap its Special Status and downgrade the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories, the Union government has decided to allow a delegation of European parliamentarians to travel to Srinagar and see the situation for themselves.
Reports from Delhi said, a 28-member delegation comprising Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from Italy, Britain, France, Germany, and Poland will visit Srinagar on Tuesday.
On the eve of their visit they met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and attended a lunch hosted by National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval. They met a few mainstream Kashmiri leaders, including former Minister Muzaffar Beigh from the PDP and recently elected Block Development Council members.
“PM Modi expressed hope that [the MEPs] have a fruitful visit to various parts of the country, including Jammu and Kashmir,” said an official statement. “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 governance priorities of the region,” it added.
The delegation also held a meeting with NSA Ajit Doval during its stay in the capital, where Kashmir situation remained the main focus of discussion.
NSA Ajit Doval gave a briefing to the delegation about the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir and steps taken by the government to to restore normalcy in Kashmir.
The delegation later met Vice President M Vaikayanaidu. During the meeting with Vice President also, issue of scrapping 370 and the situation in the valley in its aftermath remained the main highlight of the discussion.
VISIT NOT OFFICIAL
The EU Embassy in Delhi clarified that the MEPs were in India in their “personal capacity” and not as part of an official delegation. According to The Hindu, MEP’s have been invited by a local NGO called WESTT, which is hosting them.
The visit to Jammu and Kashmir is being coordinated with the NSA’s office, said officials in Srinagar, as he has been the government’s point-person on Kashmir.
It is noteworthy that the MEPs will be first foreign dignitaries to be allowed to visit Kashmir Valley by the Government of India after it diluted Article 370 and bifurcated the State into Union Territories on August 5 .
The MEPs’ visit comes just a few days before the Presidential ordinance on reorganisation of J&K goes into place on October 31, and follows concerns expressed by the EU on Article 370 decision.
New Delhi has faced considerable criticism in the European Union(EU) and in the US over the move. It has even so far refused permission to any foreign journalist to cover the situation in Jammu and Kashmir post August 5, and turned down requests from diplomats based in Delhi to visit as well.
On October 3, it declined a request by visiting US Congressman Chris Van Hollen to visit Srinagar and the issue was brought up by the State Department during a special hearing of the US Congress subcommittee on Human Rights that looked into concerns over Kashmir. UN Special Rapporteurs at the Human Rights Council have also issued statements protesting the denial of applications to visit. The Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment on whether other foreign delegation visits were being planned as well.
In September, the European Parliament saw a discussion by the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs in Brussels, a debate in the European Parliament at Strasbourg, as well as a meeting of MEPs with the “Friends of Kashmir group”. However, the Parliament refused to pass any resolution against India.
In a speech, delivered on her behalf, EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said the EU had taken up its concerns about “the situation on the ground, with its restrictions on fundamental freedoms,” directly with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. who visited Brussels prior to the meeting. “It is crucial that freedom of movement and means of communication are fully restored as well as access to all essential services,” the speech added.
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