Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto has urged New Delhi to organise a ‘multi-party’ and ‘politically-balanced’ delegation for a visit to India Occupied Kashmir (IOK).
Referring to the carefully arranged trip of European Union lawmakers to the occupied valley, Haavisto said that the delegation "was not, in my understanding, a multi-party and politically balanced delegation".
New Delhi's move backfired when the European Union mission in India distanced itself from the tour as reports emerged that the MEPs belonged to far-right parties.
“I don’t want to criticise if anyone is traveling 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," said the Finnish foreign minister.
“As a former United Nations person, I would rely on the UN observers, and in this kind of situation they may be the most unbiased.”
Haavisto added that the Kashmir issue was first discussed between India and Finland delegations in Helsinki. “In Helsinki, we had raised the question and had been given an explanation on the [Indian] government’s efforts to calm the region and fight against terrorism, etc. At that time, we had expressed our concerns about human rights and freedom of speech and the detention of politicians.”
Clashes as far-right EU lawmakers visit Indian Occupied Kashmir
The minister stressed that the Finnish delegation had the same agenda during the recent visit to New Delhi. “[We] want to ask about the possibility to have international observers, including UN observers to travel up to Kashmir.”
“At least if the diplomatic community-based in Delhi could visit the region, it would create more confidence about what is going on,” he urged.
Haavisto said the tensions between India and Pakistan were unsustainable. “They must find a way to sit down and finding a solution, but this has to be an initiative of the region.”
He added that although the Indian government had listened to Finland’s demands but “nothing else” has happened “yet”.
When asked if he believed the situation in IOJ&K was unsustainable, Haavisto 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,” he added.
UK, European MPs join chorus against Kashmir lockdown
On Indo-Pak ties, the envoy recalled Finnish peacekeepers' efforts to resolve the issue. “It is quite obvious that the willingness to talk has to come from the parties themselves, and then if they decide can choose a third party that they trust.”
“But usually, it is not the third party that offers - that is my experience,” he said when asked if Finland would like to be the intermediator.
Days before India revoked occupied Kashmir's autonomy, the Modi-led government made mass arrests including political leaders and activists, evacuated tourists, and flooded the region with troops. It also imposed an information and communication lockdown in the occupied region. India has also turned down requests by human rights organisations, journalists and US senators to visit the disputed valley.
This interview originally appeared in The Hindu.
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