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After Kashmir Visit, EU Wants Restrictions on Internet, Politicians 'Lifted Swiftly'

The European Union said that the Indian government has taken some positive steps to restore normalcy in Kashmir, but concerns remain.

New Delhi: After the second visit of diplomatic envoys to the Kashmir, the European Union on Friday said that while it notes positive steps taken by the Indian government to restore normalcy, restrictions on the internet and mobile services should be “lifted swiftly” and detained political leaders should be released.

On February 12 and 13, 25 envoys, including 11 from the European Union, visited Srinagar and Jammu as part of a trip organised by the Indian government. This was the third such visit facilitated by the Indian government since the Centre revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and divided the state into two union territories on August 5 last year.

In October, a “private” visit of members of the European parliament, most of them from right-wing parties, had travelled to Kashmir. Two months later, the first visit by 15 diplomatic heads of mission took place in early January.

After the trip concluded, the Brussels-based EU spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, Virginie Battu-Henriksson, issued a statement on Friday that the visit “confirmed that the Government of India has taken positive steps to restore normalcy”.

However, she added that strictures on communications and political leaders continue to be of concern to the EU. “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.”

Also read: ‘We’re Here as Tourists’: Fresh Batch of Foreign Envoys Visit Kashmir

The EU spokesperson described the visit as a “welcome opportunity to see the situation on the ground and to interact with local interlocutors”. “We look forward to continuing the dialogue with India on the situation in the region,” she added.

While the contours of both the trips were largely similar, there were some differences. The first group of envoys did meet with some political representatives. However, the eight PDP members who spoke with the ambassadors were immediately expelled by the party. Those political leaders had conveyed that while they had not been happy with the nullification of Article 370, they were willing to “move on”.

However, there was no such meeting with political representatives for the second group. But they did meet with the Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court Gita Mittal, who had apparently been “busy” the last time.

According to envoys who had been part of the second group, the common issue strongly raised by nearly all their interlocutors – from civil society to media and businessmen – was that they wanted the “internet back”. “2G internet is not enough.. We intend to put pressure on this aspect from the international community,” said a member of the diplomatic delegation.

Further, Kashmiri businessmen raised concerns about not being able to secure loans and finances to develop their companies.

There was no structured dialogue with interlocutors who were chosen to represent Kashmiri civil society. Instead, they were brought into the hotel hall and envoys were free to speak to them in small groups. They included a woman who claimed that the removal of Article 370 had led to her rights being restored, as she was married to a non-Kashmiri. There had also been some former militants who had been ‘re-integrated’ into the mainstream.

On the ‘normalcy’ on the streets, there was some difference of opinion among the envoys. The delegation largely had a glimpse of the city from the airport to Dal lake and their five-star hotel. While some of the ambassadors felt that the numbers on the streets were less, others pointed out that it would not be right to expect crowds in Srinagar on the lines of Delhi.

The envoys were also surprised that there were not many advocates among their interlocutors who spoke for the release of the jailed political leaders.

Recently, two former Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, as well as four other politicians, were slapped with charges under the Public Safety Act (PSA). The draconian law allows a person to be jailed without trial for up to two years.

Last month, the European parliament was scheduled last month to debate and vote on a draft resolution criticising the CAA. However, the vote was deferred till the second half of March, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to Brussels to take part in the annual India-EU summit.

The National Security Advisor Ajit Doval met with the 25 envoys at Hyderabad House this evening, where they were joined by former diplomats. Former minister of state for external affairs M.J. Akbar, who had resigned over allegations of sexual harassment during his tenure as newspaper editor, was also present.