Kashmir: Take note of Merkel’s warning

German chancellor Angela Merkel (PTI Photo)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s three-day visit to India saw the two sides sign over 20 agreements relating to agriculture, climate change, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. The two countries also explored deeper cooperation in skills development and vocational education and training and agreed to take steps to increase student exchanges. Some 20,000 Indian students are currently in Germany and these numbers could increase in the coming years. However, it was cooperation in the field of green urban mobility solutions that was the highlight of Merkel’s visit. The German chancellor announced concessional loans worth $1.12 billion towards improving green urban mobility infrastructure and services. This will involve strengthening the capacities of national, state and local institutions to design and implement sustainable, inclusive and smart mobility solutions in Indian cities. Germany plans to provide India with 500 electric buses that will replace existing diesel-powered ones in our cities. This project will run over the coming five years. Merkel’s visit coincided with a health emergency declared by the Delhi government on account of a thick toxic haze that has enveloped the national capital. There is an urgent need for India to step up its green urban mobility infrastructure and the proposed cooperation with Germany is a welcome step in that direction.

India has strong ties with Germany. The two countries are part of a Group of Four countries that are coordinating their strategies to secure permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council. Besides, India and Germany have strong trade relations. Not only does Germany figure in India’s list of top 10 trading partners but also, it is India's most important trading partner within the European Union (EU). Bilateral trade is growing; it was worth $21.9 billion in 2017-18, a 17% increase over the previous year. In her talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Merkel is said to have pitched for speeding up talks towards finalizing a free trade agreement (FTA) between India and the EU. Talks on an FTA that were initiated in 2007 ran aground in 2012. An India-EU FTA will reduce uncertainty experienced by some 1,700 German companies operating in India.

In her interaction with the German media ahead of her meeting with Modi, Merkel observed that the current situation in Kashmir is “not sustainable” and needs to “improve.” What transpired between the two leaders on the subject during their meeting has not been made public. So far, Germany’s response to the situation in Kashmir has been mild. Merkel’s rather robust remarks indicate growing impatience in the West with the slow pace at which the Modi government is acting to restore normalcy in Kashmir.

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