NEW DELHI – Under attack by the Opposition over the visit of European lawmakers to Kashmir, the government on Thursday said the trip was considered to be in India’s larger national interest as it helped getting international attention on Pakistan’s support to cross-border militancy.
In its first comments on the issue, the external affairs ministry also asserted that the appointments and engagements of the group were facilitated when the ministry realised that the lawmakers could serve India’s foreign policy objectives.
External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said the government may consider requests for similar visits in future depending on three specific factors — “content, intent and ground realities”.
Rejecting criticism that the visit by Members of European Parliament (MEPs) to the Valley amounted to internationalisation of the Kashmir issue, Kumar said it was like a “familiarisation” trip and allowing them to go there was neither internationalising it nor ceding any ground.
Replying to a barrage of questions on the visit, which snowballed into a huge political controversy with the Opposition as well as some BJP allies, including the Shiv Sena attacking the government, Kumar said the key consideration before facilitating their engagement was whether it would serve larger national interests.
Asked about the ministry’s role in the delegation’s visit, Kumar said the MEA facilitated appointments and engagements of the group when it realised that the lawmakers could serve India’s foreign policy objectives.
In the first visit by a foreign delegation, a team of 23 MEPs travelled to Kashmir on Tuesday on a two-day trip to have a first-hand assessment of the situation after the state’s special status was revoked in August by abrogating provisions of Article 370. Several of the 23 MPs belong to right and far right parties and are not part of he mainstream in their own countries.
Opposition parties severely criticised the government for the move with the Congress describing it as the “biggest diplomatic blunder” and others asking the Centre how these foreign lawmakers were allowed to visit the Valley while Indian leaders were denied permission.
Emphasising that the visit helped in getting international attention on Pakistan’s support to cross border militancy, Kumar said, “I think there has been clear distinction between getting an international understanding of the situation and internationalising the issue.”
He said the MEPs had expressed a keen desire to know about India and that it was like a familiarisation visit.
“They belonged to a spectrum of views. They were from different countries of Europe and they belonged to different political parties,” Kumar said.
He said meetings were, therefore, accordingly facilitated.
“Many of them had expressed desire that they would like to know how terrorism is affecting India, how it has been a challenge for India. Their statement after the visit to Kashmir reflected that they got understanding of the situation on the ground and got to know how terrorism possesses threat to India,” he said.
“I think Pakistan’s support to cross border terrorism got the attention. Engaging the diplomatic community is not internationalisation of the issue,” he added.
The MEA Spokesperson said such delegations do not necessarily have to come through official channels. “We feel that such exchanges are part of people-to-people contacts,” he said.
Asked whether MEA will allow other delegations to visit Kashmir, Kumar said it will depend on intent of those sending such requests.
“We would definitely look at such requests. It should, however, be kept in mind that what will be the deciding factors and it will depend on the intent, the content and also the ground situation. All these factors will be weighed in,” he said.
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