India may allow more foreign delegations to visit J&K

File PTI photo of Members of European Union Parliamentary delegation board a shikara ride at Dal Lake in Srinagar

The Government may facilitate visits of more foreign delegations to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), depending on the intent of the visitors and the situation on the ground, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Thursday, a day after 23 members of European Parliament concluded a tour to Srinagar.

The MEA said that it would look into requests by other foreign delegations to visit J&K. “It should, however, be kept in mind that what will be the deciding factor will depend on the intent, content and also the ground situation – all these factors will be weighed in before we take decisions (on requests for visits by foreign delegations to J&K),” Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), said in New Delhi.   

The Government this week facilitated the visit of 23 Members of European Parliament (MEPs) to J&K after they arrived in New Delhi on a tour organized by a non-governmental organization. 

Most of them are affiliated to political parties known for right-leaning ideology and agenda. This was the first time New Delhi allowed a foreign delegation to visit Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government on August 5 stripped the state of its special status and moved to reorganize it into two Union Territories.

The MEPs had a meeting with Prime Minister before traveling to J&K.

Modi Government drew flak from the opposition parties for allegedly “outsourcing” external engagements to a non-government organization. It was also criticized for allowing foreign delegates to visit J&K even as a delegation of opposition leaders and Members of Parliament of India was earlier stopped from visiting the state, which officially ceased to exist and was reorganized into two Union Territories on Thursday.

“In the case of the visit of the MEPs to India, it was brought to the attention of the government that this delegation is going to visit India. It was like a familiarization visit,” said Kumar. “The purpose of the visit was their desire to know how terrorism has challenged India.”

“They (MEPs) belong to a spectrum of views from different countries of Europe and different political parties. Meetings were therefore accordingly facilitated as has been done on many previous occasions,” he added.

The opposition parties raised questions about the involvement of one Madi Sharma, who introduces herself on Twitter as “International Business Broker” and sent out the invitation to the MEPs for the “private” visit to India, including J&K.

The MEA, however, said on Thursday that it was not necessary for the foreign delegations to come through official channels for being facilitated by the government

“The important point is whether such an engagement serves larger national interests. This is part of the MEA's mandate to engage with wide-ranging people to promote our foreign policy,” added Kumar. He also dismissed the allegation by the opposition that the government had ended up internationalizing the issue of J&K by allowing the MEPs to visit J&K.

“Such visits and engaging with different groups cannot be treated as internationalizing the issue,” said the MEA spokesperson.

Though the majority of the international community, including the European Union (EU), endorsed India's position that its moves on J&K were its “internal affairs” and “sovereign decisions”, New Delhi did draw flak for detention of a large number of political leaders and activists, communication blackout and restrictions imposed on citizens of J&K before, on and after August 5.

The European Parliament had a plenary debate on the situation in Kashmir on September 18. Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that the EU remained concerned about “the situation on the ground, with its restrictions on fundamental freedoms”. “It is crucial that freedom of movement and means of communication are fully restored as well as access to all essential services,” she said in the speech delivered during the debate on her behalf by Tytti Tuppurainen, Finnish Minister for European Affairs.

Since August 5, New Delhi has not been allowing foreign journalists or Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council, to visit J&K. It has earlier this month turned down a request by United States Congressman, Chris Van Hollen, to visit Srinagar. During a hearing by a sub-committee of the American House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington D.C. on October 21, several US lawmakers said that New Delhi should allow foreign journalists as well as a delegation of the American Congress to visit J&K.

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