WHILE THE European Union (EU) on Wednesday expressed concern about the situation on the ground in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and “restrictions on fundamental freedoms”, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is scheduled to visit Finland, which is the current EU chair, from September 19 to 21.
Jaishankar will meet his counterpart, Pekka Haavisto, and will also call on Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Antti Rinne. They will hold discussions on a “broad spectrum of bilateral relations pursuant to meeting of the Prime Ministers of India and Finland in the margins of the India-Nordic Summit in April 2018 in Stockholm”, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.
Meanwhile, in Brussels, Tytti Tuppurainen, Finnish Minister for European Affairs, gave a statement on behalf of High Representative and Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the European Parliament, where she said that the tensions in the region have “increased” following India’s decision to scrap J&K’s special status under Article 370. This step has been accompanied by restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms, she said.
She said India has deployed additional military and paramilitary troops in Kashmir and along the Line of Control. “This action was presented by the Indian government as a means to prevent violent protests,” she said. Pakistan has also deployed additional troops on its side of the LoC. On both sides, the issue of Kashmir resonates strongly with “internal political dynamics”, she said.
“While some of the restrictions are reportedly lifted, the situation has not returned to normalcy. There have been arrests of political leaders, activists and human rights defenders,” Tuppurainen said.
She said the EU has been following the situation “closely”. In early August, Mogherini spoke on the phone with both her Pakistani and Indian counterparts. In both conversations, Mogherini underlined the importance of avoiding further escalation and stressed that dialogue between India and Pakistan through diplomatic channels is crucial.
“Our position on Kashmir remains unchanged: we encourage India and Pakistan to seek a peaceful and political solution, respectful of the interests of the Kashmiri population on both sides of the Line of Control. This remains the only way to solve a long-lasting dispute that for too long has caused instability and insecurity in the region,” she said.
“We remain 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.
Tuppurainen said Mogherini conveyed these concerns to Jaishankar during their meeting in Brussels on August 30. Mogherini reiterated the call to avoid an escalation of tensions and stressed the importance of steps to restore the rights and freedoms of the population in Kashmir.
She said the EU also raised the J&K situation at the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, in an “item 2” statement on September 10. In the statement, she said, “we encourage the lifting of the remaining restrictions temporarily imposed and to maintain the rights and fundamental freedoms of the affected population.”
“We continue to urge both parties to engage in direct dialogue, with a view to a peaceful solution, in full respect of their international human rights obligations,” she said.
“In a moment of rising tensions in different regions around the world, no one could afford another escalation in Kashmir. Regional cooperation in South Asia is now more essential than ever, and we will continue to encourage India and Pakistan to resume dialogue and find a peaceful solution for their disputes,” she said.
“The EU will continue to monitor closely the situation with our key focus being on de-escalating the situation involving two nuclear powers. We must make every effort needed to avoid an escalation of the conflict,” she said.
Meanwhile, European parliamentarians Ryszard Czarnecki and Fulvio Martusciello have slammed Pakistan for harbouring militants.
During a special debate of the plenary of the European Parliament on the situation in Kashmir on Tuesday, Czarnecki, a member of EU Parliament and European Conservatives and Reformists Group in Poland, said: “India is the greatest democracy of the world. We need to look at terrorist acts that took place in India, Jammu and Kashmir. These terrorists didn’t land from the Moon. They were coming from the neighbouring country. We should support India.”
Martusciello, a member of EU Parliament and Group of European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) in Italy, said Pakistan had threatened to use nuclear weapons which was a concern to the EU. “Pakistan is somewhere where terrorists have been able to plan bloody terrorist attacks in Europe,” said Martusciello.
While in Finland, Jaishankar will also meet parliamentarians and unveil a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. The statue has been gifted by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations to the Government of Finland to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the MEA said. He will then head to the US.