New Delhi: At least five European ambassadors, who were taken on a trip to Jammu and Kashmir earlier this week, have expressed concerns over the continued detention of political leaders and restrictions on internet and mobile services in the region.
“It was a guided tour, so the scope of understanding the real situation was not much. But the government did organise a number of interactions there with the civil society groups and the media. We were also able to talk to people on the sidelines and felt that the restrictions should be lifted,” one of the ambassadors of a EU-member country, who was part of the trip, told ThePrint.
This comes on a day the European Union (EU) urged the Indian government to “swiftly” lift the restrictions in J&K, while also calling the envoys’ visit a “welcome opportunity”.
“The visit confirmed that the Government of India has taken positive steps to restore normalcy. Some restrictions remain, notably on internet access and mobile services, and some political leaders are still in detention. While we recognise the serious security concerns, it is important that the remaining restrictions be lifted swiftly,” said Virginie Battu-Henriksson, EU Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
A group of 25 envoys were taken to the trip on 12-13 February by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to carry out a first-hand assessment of the situation in the union territory — six months after the scrapping of Article 370.
The delegation was led by Vikas Swarup, Secretary (West), MEA.
After returning from the trip, the envoys met National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval Friday.
The envoys, who represented some of the EU-member countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Austria, among others, were called by Doval to “understand how they felt” and the “experience” they had during the two-day trip there, diplomatic sources told ThePrint.
Ambassador of the European Union to India Ugo Astuto was also part of the trip.
Other ambassadors who were part of the trip were from Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Guinea, Hungary, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Rwanda, Slovak Republic, Tajikistan, Uganda and Uzbekistan.
During their visit Wednesday, the delegates had said that “Kashmir is fine“.
The significance of EU statement
The European Union’s remarks Friday assume significance in the backdrop of the European Parliament postponing a vote last month on a joint resolution on Kashmir and the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). A debate on the resolution was held on 29 January.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be travelling to Brussels next month for the annual EU-India Summit, scheduled on 13 March.
Earlier this month, the Modi government had booked both the former J&K chief ministers — Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti — under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA).
Second visit to J&K organised by MEA
The foreign envoys’ visit is the second such trip to J&K, which was organised by the MEA.
Last year, the foreign ministry had organised a tour of Srinagar for a group of mostly right-wing European parliamentarians. The visit was criticised and labelled as a PR stunt.
The envoys who visited J&K this week could not visit Baramullah — which was part of the itinerary — due to bad weather.
“Baramulla trip could not take place due to bad weather,” said Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson, MEA.