The European Union on Friday urged the Indian government to swiftly lift the remaining restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir, while admitting that the Centre had taken positive steps to “restore normalcy” in the region since abrogating its special constitutional status in August.
Diplomats from Germany, Canada, France, Italy, Poland, New Zealand, Mexico, Afghanistan, Austria, Uzbekistan, and the European Union visited Jammu and Srinagar on February 12 and 13. This was the second group of envoys to visit the erstwhile state this year. Kashmiri media outlets talked to the group about the problems they were facing because of internet restrictions. The group also spoke to businessmen, entrepreneurs, some political representatives and military officials, and selected members of civil society.
“The visit confirmed that the Government of India has taken positive steps to restore normalcy,” read the statement from Virginie Battu-Henriksson, the EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. “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.”
The Centre suspended internet services in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh on August 5, just before imposing a security lockdown. Mobile 2G internet services were restored in a limited way for both prepaid and postpaid connections only on January 25, after more than five-and-a-half months. However, this access was provided to just 301 “whitelisted” websites.
Last week, the Kashmir Press Club raised concerns about the inability of journalists in the region to operate freely due to alleged obstruction by authorities. The organisation took note of the alleged physical attacks, threats and summons towards journalists during a meeting.
The foreign delegates’ visit was criticised by Opposition leaders. Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter said it was “orchestrated diplomacy”. “How lovely,” Iltija Mufti tweeted from her mother’s handle. “[North Korean dictator] Kim Jong Un would be proud of such orchestrated diplomacy. The only thing missing is presence of three former Jammu and Kashmir ex CMs in this ‘curated shikara’. I’m sure they’d have lots to share.”
Last week, prominent Kashmiri politicians, including former Chief Ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, were charged under the Public Safety Act. The Act allows the detention of a person without trial for up to two years.
In January, envoys from 16 countries, including the United States, South Korea, Vietnam and Norway, had visited Srinagar. The visit was facilitated by the central government. After several media reports claimed it was a “guided tour”, the government issued a strong denial.
In October, around two dozen members of parliament from the European Union had been taken to Kashmir on a much-criticised tour. The politicians in the group were mostly from far-right nationalist parties. Indian Opposition parties have repeatedly targeted the government for facilitating these visits of foreign envoys and political leaders to Kashmir, while Indian MPs were facing obstructions when trying to enter Srinagar.