MEPs' visit to Kashmir not a 'blunder' but significant diplomatic move to seize the narrative of the Valley

  • It is to their credit that the European lawmakers were not blinded by ideology enough to ignore the role being played by Pakistan in nurturing, sponsoring, mentoring and exporting terrorists.

  • The effort to suggest that right-wing ideology of the visiting lawmakers automatically invalidates their opinion smacks of ideological intolerance.

  • There should not be any doubt that this visit by the foreign delegation was closely choreographed by the Indian government but this exercise was necessary to give the right picture about Kashmir.

There has been much ado about the visit of a few European Union lawmakers to Kashmir Valley — the first foreign delegation to be invited by India to do so. The Opposition has been up in arms, calling it a “diplomatic blunder” and many media outlets have been taking potshots at the political affiliations of the EU MPs — the majority of 23 parliamentarians are conservatives — as if they suffer from bubonic plague and are to be quarantined. AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi called the EU MPs “Nazi supporters” while offering no evidence to back his claim.

The ideological disposition of the elected representatives matters little in terms of the legitimacy of their exercise. Would it have been better had the Narendra Modi government invited Jeremy Corbyn or Ilhan Omar to visit Kashmir? It is ridiculous to claim that only Leftists or Islamo-fascist politicians have the right to play judge and issue certificates of validation on Kashmir, and anything else is a “PR stunt”.

 MEPs visit to Kashmir not a blunder but significant diplomatic move to seize the narrative of the Valley

MPs from the European Parliament on a visit to India. Twitter @narendramodi

The Opposition’s adverse stand on the issue of allowing a foreign delegation to visit Kashmir and see the “ground situation” is understandable since it may be considered as inconsistent messaging on India’s part that has steadfastly refused any third-party mediation. There is also some merit in the argument that it sends a wrong message to allow European MPs to visit Kashmir when the Valley remains out of bounds for Opposition lawmakers.

While these issues need to be discussed and debated, the effort to suggest that “right-wing” ideology of the visiting lawmakers automatically invalidates their opinion (see here and here) smacks of ideological intolerance.

Be that as it may, the pressing question is whether the government miscalculated in inviting the foreign delegation and ended up causing more harm than good, or whether the gamble paid off? It is worth noting that members of the delegation — who came in their individual capacities and were not representing the European Union — backed India’s stand on abrogation of Article 370, identified Pakistan’s role as terror exporter and architect of instability in the region and called the visit an “eye-opener” after interacting with a cross-section of civil society and political leaders in the Valley.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that on a day the European lawmakers were taking stock of the ground realities, terrorists gunned down six labourers from West Bengal in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district on Tuesday. As Times of India notes in a report, Tuesday’s attack was the fifth in a series of terror attacks against non-locals since 14 October, the day telecommunication was partially restored in Kashmir. Before this, terrorists have killed four truckers, one apple trader and one labourer.

The attack spooked transport operators across India to issue an ultimatum to the Centre that they would stop operating in Kashmir unless their safety and security is ensured. “In case the government does not take needful steps for the security of the truckers and drivers then we will have no option but to decide and give a call to our members not to send trucks to Kashmir,” said All India Motor Transport Congress in a letter. If they withdraw their services, trucks carrying essential consignments will be badly hit, complicating the situation further, as a report in Firstpost points out.

It is to their credit that the European lawmakers were not blinded by ideology enough to ignore the role being played by Pakistan in nurturing, sponsoring, mentoring and exporting these terrorists.

In a news conference following their visit, Henri Malosse from France said: “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.” UK MP Newton Dunne said: “…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.”

There should not be any doubt that this visit by the foreign delegation was closely choreographed by the Indian government but given the fact that most of the Western media’s coverage on Kashmir has been largely fact-free, biased and prejudiced against India’s ruling dispensation, this exercise was necessary.

When independent European lawmakers say, after visiting Kashmir, that “we are well equipped now and can go back and share this with our colleagues and respective countries. The situation is not as bad as we thought. People here want peace, better life and better vocations, and want jobs. Terrorism has destroyed such dreams”, then the skewed global narrative gets a semblance of balance.

It is only recently that a US Congressional panel that behaved impertinently led by Democrat lawmakers, bullied and gagged an Indian journalist when she tried to testify before the panel and present her perspective.

Two questions remain to be tackled. First, has the Modi government’s act of inviting a foreign delegation — when it is opposed to third party mediation on Kashmir — harmed its own stand and ended up giving negative publicity? This is unlikely. While India has stressed that abrogation of a temporary constitutional provision was its internal matter, a sovereign decision taken by its Parliament and doesn’t interfere with the LoC, it has had to respond to Pakistan’s outlandish charges that found resonance in international media and at the UN. In other words, India has not been able to prevent the “internationalization” of the issue.

Second, has Centre’s move to allow European MPs to visit Kashmir while keeping it out of bounds for Indian parliamentarians sent a wrong message? It is doubtless a risk taken by the Modi government but that has likely been motivated by an apprehension that Opposition lawmakers might want to stir the political pot in Kashmir. They may demand to meet the detained politicians or try a hand at rabble-rousing in a volatile climate. In contrast, European MPs has no skin in India’s domestic political game.

Finally, the government’s calculated risk in allowing foreign delegation to visit Kashmir may make more sense if we see it as a mosaic of India’s diplomatic options. This mosaic consists of deft diplomatic manoeuvres such as stitching a joint statement with Saudi Arabia after prime minister’s visit that clearly asks Pakistan to back off. Following Modi’s visit to the key West Asian nation that is at the heart of Islamic world (and a nation that Pakistan considers to be its close ally and part of Islamic ummah), the India-Saudi joint statement read: “The two sides discussed regional and international issues of mutual interest, and reiterated their categorical rejection of all forms of interference in the internal affairs of countries, and the need for the international community to fulfill its responsibilities towards preventing any attacks on the sovereignty of States.”

In other words, Pakistan’s close ally was asking it to refrain from fomenting trouble in Kashmir and calling on the international community not to interfere in India’s internal matters. This initiative, in conjunction with the MPs visit (reports have emerged that more delegations may be allowed to visit) clearly speak of pro-active diplomacy to seize the narrative on Kashmir.

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Updated Date: Oct 31, 2019 10:49:50 IST