EU MPs’ Kashmir Visit: Mission Unaccomplished
Even before the delegation’s departure for Srinagar criticism began pouring in from opposition leaders across India.
In 2004, when militancy and human rights abuse by security forces had remarkably faded out, a European Union diplomatic delegation at the end of its high-profile visit to the Valley described Kashmir as the world’s largest jail.
Fifteen years later, when the situation is arguably far worse despite zero civilian killings by the armed forces, nobody here seems to expect anything uncharitable, anything unpalatable to the Government of India, from the delegation of 28 European Union parliamentarians.
Apparently under the pressure of a massive propaganda campaign in the international diplomatic circles and media, the Centre on Tuesday, 29 October, flew a 46-member-strong troupe of the European parliamentarians and staff from some foreign missions and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to assess the situation in Kashmir — for the first time after stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status on 5 August.
Indian MPs Question EU MPs’ Credibility
Even before the delegation’s departure for Srinagar, and immediately after its meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, a blitz of criticism began pouring in from Opposition politicians and intelligentsia across India. Even the BJP’s enfant terrible Subramanian Swamy questioned the Centre publicly over what he saw as a deviation from New Delhi’s foreign policy. Maverick Assaduddin Owaisi dismissed the delegates as ‘Islamophobes’, suggesting their report on Kashmir could be essentially an endorsement of the Modi government’s stand and claims of normalcy.
From Congress to CPI(M), many a stalwart was heard sulking that the European parliamentarians’ passage to Kashmir was being facilitated by the Modi government while as the Indian Members of Parliament (MPs) were not being permitted without seeking orders from the J&K High Court and Supreme Court of India.
It was repeatedly pointed out that the Lok Sabha member from Srinagar, Dr Farooq Abdullah himself was continuously under arrest along with former CMs Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti and over a hundred other politicians since 5 August.
Three Kashmiri Leaders Meet EU Team in Delhi
Significantly, those who met with the Europeans in New Delhi on Monday included PDP’s former ministers Altaf Bukhari and Muzaffar Hussain Baig and a former Congress MLA and ex-minister Usman Majid. Baig, a former deputy chief minister, is still in PDP while Bukhari has not joined any party after his expulsion from Mehbooba’s party last year.
Some Indian television news channels played up rumours that seven to eight members of the delegation had refused to proceed to the Valley.
Much of the hue and cry was indeed unfounded. For example, the number of EU MPs who landed at the Srinagar Airport was a full 28. Nobody stopped the National Conference MPs, Mohammad Akbar Lone and Hasnain Masoodi, from landing in Srinagar in the afternoon on Tuesday, 29 October.
Media Barred from Visiting Srinagar Hotels
Notwithstanding the delegation’s schedule of a brief press conference at the technical area of the Srinagar Airport before its departure at 08:45 am on Wednesday, nobody in the media was made aware of the people the Europeans were meeting with in Srinagar. Entry of media was banned into the hotels the visiting delegates were staying at or interacting with unknown Kashmiris.
The Quint learned from well-placed official sources that the delegation had no plans of venturing into Srinagar or rest of the Valley. No traders, hotel and houseboat owners, handicraft and fresh fruit dealers or transporters, facing the brunt of the nearly three-month-long shutdown, was seen around. Unlike the last seven or eight weeks, well-organised stone pelting on private transport and security forces was reported from over 50 places apparently to enforce shutdown.
In at least one village of Jawalapora in Budgam, militants fired in the air to enforce shutdown. “We are caught between the devil and the deep sea. India wants to manufacture normalcy and Pakistan wants to manufacture mayhem”, shopkeeper Gulzar Ahmad Sheikh said.
“We are least interested in their politics and the visit of the foreigners. Every time the poor Kashmiri are made to shed blood,” Sheikh said while referring to the massacre of 36 Sikhs at Chittisinghpura on the eve of the then US President Bill Clinton’s visit in March 2000. According to him, it was because of the Europeans' visit that 20 innocent civilians had been left bleeding in a grenade attack in a crowded marketplace in Sopore on Monday.
If the purpose of the EU delegation’s visit was to demolish the anti-India propaganda campaign across the world, it has failed. Not one of the prominent names in politics, civil society, intelligentsia including media and academia, trade or industry chose to meet with the Europeans — most of them indeed out of the fear of the militants and stone pelters. Others were not even invited.
Kashmiri Traders, Businessmen Not Invited
“It’s probably for the first time that the representative body of Kashmir-based traders and businessmen has been completely ignored. Nobody has contacted or invited any of us for a meeting with the European delegation”, Sheikh Ashiq Hussain, President Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), conglomerate of dozens of associations, complained to The Quint.
“Whenever any top dignitary or a minister, including prime minister of India, would visit Kashmir, we used to be the first to be invited and meet him,” Sheikh said. “What’s the credibility of the unknown and anonymous persons who are said to have met with the delegation? We alone knew what are the economic issues and their solutions. We alone could have genuinely briefed the delegation. We can’t stay away from the government as our representation is in 44 boards of the government. But we didn’t get an invite,” Sheikh added.
Two of the most leading hotel and houseboat owners, in separate telephonic conversations with The Quint, echoed the KCCI chief. “There’s a curfew-like situation in my Lal Bazar area. I had to go to a doctor due to my backache. I wasn’t allowed to move out. How could anyone of us visit this delegation,” said a houseboat baron. He made it clear that none of the representatives of hotels or houseboat owners had even been invited for a meeting with the visiting delegation.
Governor, Advisor Home off in Delhi
Government’s non-seriousness was also evident from the fact that the top functionaries themselves were absent. Governor Satya Pal Malik, Advisor Home K Vijay Kumar, and Principal Secretary Home Shaleen Kabra were all reportedly in New Delhi. Advisors to Governor, Farooq Khan and K Skandan, arrived late in the afteroon. Sources said that the delegation had lunch and a detailed briefing by Army at headquarters of 15 Corps.
Later in the evening, another official team, headed by Principal Secretary Planning and the designated government spokesman Rohit Kansl briefed the delegation about the measures taken “to restore normalcy” in the last 12 weeks.
At both the briefings, it was highlighted that not a single person had died in the police or security forces action after 5 August. On the other side, it was pointed out, terrorists shot dead 10 persons, including five non-Kashmiri labourers and a fruit merchant, while hundreds of vehicles had been damaged in stone pelting to enforce shutdown so as to create an impression that the Kashmiris were continuously protesting abrogation of Article 370.
The delegation’s failure to interact with genuine representatives of traders, transporters, hotel and houseboat owners, journalists, academicians, political leaders and common citizens would make it difficult to neutralise the impression that Kashmir is no more the world’s largest open air jail.
(The writer is a Srinagar-based journalist. He can be reached @ahmedalifayyaz.)
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