EU MPs Say Article 370 Is Internal Issue, Stand By India In Fight Against Terror
Members of the European Parliament, who were in Jammu & Kashmir on a two-day visit that ended Wednesday, see Article 370 as an internal issue of India and said they stand by the country in its fight against global terrorism.
They also condemned the killing of five labourers from West Bengal by terrorists in South Kashmir's Kulgam district.
Before flying back to New Delhi, the EU MPs met selected journalists at Srinagar's old airport.
"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 EU MPs got a briefing from Indian Army and the J&K Police, as well as young activists, and exchanged "ideas of peace".
Nicolaus Fest, from the right-wing Alternative for Germany, told journalists separately that the government should address the "imbalance" of European parliamentarians being allowed to visit but India's opposition MPs being refused permission.
Several of the 23 EU MPs belong to right and far-right parties and are not part of he mainstream in their own countries. The visit has been cloaked in controversy with several questions raised on its funding and some reports suggesting it was organised by a non-governmental organisation that promised a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The two-day trip, to assess the situation in J&K, is significant for more than one reason.
It is the first high-level foreign visit to Kashmir after the Aug. 5 decision of the Centre to revoke the state's administrative autonomy under Article 370 and downsize it into two union territories. On Thursday, the state will be bifurcated into the union territories of J&K and Ladakh.
Ryszard Czarnecki, an EU MP from Poland, said that the international media coverage on Kashmir seems biased. "Once we go back to our countries we will inform them of what we saw," he said.
Newton Dunn from the UK described the Kashmir visit, aimed at getting a first-hand assessment of the situation in the state, 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," Dunn said.
Thierry Mariani, a member of the Rassemblement National party in France, told the media he had been to India several times and that this visit was not to interfere in the internal matters 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 European Parliament team originally comprised 27 delegates, but four did not travel to Kashmir and have reportedly returned to their respective countries, officials said without divulging any reason.
The team arrived in Srinagar on Tuesday to a complete shutdown, blockades, stone pelting and clashes between people and security forces in several parts of the city and the Kashmir Valley. Terrorists also fired at a bullet-proof, mobile bunker of the Central Reserve Police Force in Pulwama but there were no casualties.
On Monday, the EU MPs met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi. While welcoming them to India, he "expressed the hope that they have a fruitful visit to various parts of the country, including to Jammu and Kashmir".
"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 statement from the prime minister’s office read.
National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who hosted a lunch for the 27 EU MPs, also gave them an overview of the situation in J&K.
A few weeks ago, a U.S. senator was denied permission to visit Kashmir.
A joint delegation of opposition MPs, including Congress' Rahul Gandhi, undertaking a visit to Kashmir about two months ago, was not allowed to go beyond the Srinagar airport after their arrival from Delhi and were sent back to the national capital.