Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto on Thursday raised concerns about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, and said India should allow United Nations observers and diplomatic missions to visit the region to get first-hand experience, The Hindu reported.

Haavisto is on a four-day visit to India and held discussions with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on a range of matters. The two ministers had met last month also in Finland’s capital Helsinki.

In an interview to The Hindu, Haavisto said both their meetings included honest and in-depth discussions about Kashmir situation. “In Helsinki we had raised the question, and had been given an explanation on the government’s efforts to calm the region and fight against terrorism etc,” he said. “At that time, we had expressed our concerns about human rights and freedom of speech and the detention of politicians. We had the same agenda during this visit, and want to ask about the possibility to have international observers, including UN observers to travel up to Kashmir.”

He suggested that at least the diplomatic community based in New Delhi could visit the region to instill confidence about the ground situation. “Transparency of the situation is better as, otherwise, all kinds of rumours and reports are floating around,” the foreign minister said.

Haavisto called for a final settlement of tensions between India and Pakistan and said they are “unsustainable”. “They must find a way to sit down and finding a solution, but this has to be an initiative of the region,” he said.

EU MPs’ Kashmir trip

Haavisto said the unofficial delegation of members of the European Parliament that visited Jammu and Kashmir last month was not a politically-balanced team. “I don’t want to criticise if anyone is travelling and reporting about the situation in Kashmir, but it is good if people who have expertise about the situation in this region or on human rights, freedom of the media issues etc are involved,” he stressed. “As a former UN person, I would rely on United Nations observers, and in this kind of situation they may be the most unbiased.”

Questions were raised about the manner in which the 23 European Union parliamentarians’ two-day trip to the region was organised. They were the first foreign group to visit Jammu and Kashmir since India scrapped its special status on August 5 and imposed prohibitory orders. After their visit, the MEPs said India’s moves in the region were the country’s internal matter. Most of them belonged to right-wing, nationalist parties.

Haavisto said his counterpart Jaishankar took note of Finland’s views on the matter but nothing else has happened yet.

Asked about German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments last week that the current situation in Kashmir is “not sustainable” and needs to change, he said: “Shops are not open, people can’t go to work, or others are not able to harvest [crops]. News like this normally means that economic development is worsening too, and people’s livelihoods are becoming difficult, so this is also a concern.”

New Delhi maintains that the whole of Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, is an integral part of India, and its internal matter. On August 5, the government scrapped the special status of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and imposed prohibitory orders. It also bifurcated the state into two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

The restrictions have gradually been eased in Kashmir, with mobile phone connectivity restored and schools and colleges reopened. However, an internet ban continues, and senior leaders of local political parties remain in detention. There have also been reports of clashes between security personnel and protestors.

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