External Affairs

Kashmir Situation Unsustainable, Must Improve: Merkel

Merkel’s remarks are surprisingly robust and indicates growing impatience within the international community.

New Delhi: German chancellor Angela Merkel, who is on a three-day visit to India, said on Friday that the conditions for people in Kashmir are “unsustainable” and need to improve.

Merkel told accompanying media reporters that she planned to raise the issue about situation in Kashmir during her dinner meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“We have not talked about Kashmir specifically yet. I can and will say tonight – when it will be on the agenda – that we are committed to de-escalation and relaxation. Above all, we want India and Pakistan to find a peaceful solution. We are well aware of Indian position, but I would like to hear arguments of the prime minister today. The current situation for people there is not sustainable and not good. That certainly needs to be improved,” Merkel told German media.

Since Germany, till now, has made relatively mild comments on India’s move to put an end to Kashmir’s autonomous status while placing blanket restrictions on communications and movement, Merkel’s remarks are surprisingly robust and indicates growing impatience within the international community. So far, only the United States – and the UK to an extent – has expressed strong concern among western countries about the restrictions still in place in Kashmir, especially related to political detainees.

Many of the restrictions have been slowly lifted, but even now, mobile services have only partially been restored and internet is still completely cut off in the Valley.

Also read: Germany Would like to See Early Lifting of Restrictions in Kashmir: Envoy

The criticism from Merkel also comes just a few days after Indian government facilitated a controversial “private visit” of European lawmakers to Kashmir. The group of around 28 Members of European Parliament, including three from German opposition right-wing party, AfD.

Indian government sources said that Kashmir wasn’t raised during the plenary meeting Inter-Governmental Commission that she co-chaired with Modi.

There is still no official statement from either the Indian or German side about the substance of the discussion on Kashmir at the Indian PM’s residence.

A day after the Indian parliament approved the constitutional changes related to Kashmir in August, the German foreign ministry spokesperson had that Berlin hoped that “all further steps of the (Indian) government will comply with India’s constitution”.

She had also called on New Delhi to “hold dialogue with the population concerned about its plans, its intentions”.

Nearly two month later, German envoy to India, Walter Lindner had said that Germany considers the developments in Kashmir as “internal matter” of India, but added that they have “regional consequences”.

He said on September 30 that Germany would like to see “early lifting of restrictions”. However, Lindner had also added that easing of restrictions has to be “done in accordance with security issues”.

“But there should be no violations of human rights and trespassing of provisions,” said Lindner, adding that the “world would be closely watching”.

He also indicated that India and Pakistan should hold talks. “Germany would like to see continuation of bilateral contacts,” he stated.

Earlier in the day, Merkel and Modi witnessed the exchange of five joint declaration of intent and 17 memoranda of understandings to deepen strategic cooperation and exchanged notes on ways to boost bilateral trade.

“We’re encouraging our private sectors to give an impetus to our growing bilateral trade and Chancellor Merkel and I will meet some of the top business and industry leaders,” Modi told a joint news conference with the German leader.

Bilateral trade between the two countries rose to $24.06 billion (18.5 billion pounds) in the 2018/19 fiscal year ending in March from $22 billion the previous year, while German companies have invested nearly $12 billion in India since 2000.

Germany is India’s largest trading partner in Europe and more than 1,700 German companies are operating in India.

The agreements struck on strategic cooperation, included agriculture, cyber security and artificial intelligence. Modi said the two countries would also bolster ties to combat “terrorism and extremism”.

Germany and India also agreed to join hands in the area of education.

“As many as 20,000 Indian nationals are studying in Germany and we would like to see more,” Merkel said.

Although Merkel and Modi didn’t mention anything about restarting talks on finalising a free trade agreement between India and the European Union, sources earlier said the two leaders could take up the trade deal.

Eric Schweitzer, president of the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), earlier said India had enormous potential but there has been uncertainty among companies after an investment protection agreement between the two countries ended in 2016.

“Small and medium-sized German companies stand in a labyrinth of regulations and shy away from larger investment. Negotiations should restart and Merkel’s visit could help,” he said.

VDA, Germany’s car industry association that counts automakers like Volkswagen, Daimler, BMW and Audi as members, also wanted India to restart the FTA talks.

Daimler’s Mercedes-Bez, BMW and Audi dominate India’s luxury car market.

The article has been updated with German chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments on Kashmir.

(With inputs from Reuters)