September 2019 News

India Goes On A Diplomatic Blitz On Kashmir

7 September 2019
The Hindu
Suhasini Haider

New Delhi: With the United Nations General Assembly, UN Human Rights Council, European Parliament and the US Congress all scheduled to make references to the situation in Kashmir in September, the Government of India has been working on a comprehensive diplomatic strategy to counter the concerns over the abrogation of Article 370 and the detentions, communication shutdown as well as alleged excesses by security forces, several officials involved in the planning told The Hindu. 'It's all hands on deck for this month', said a senior diplomat, who pointed to the diplomatic outreach over Kashmir as the reason for the cancellation of the MEA's (Ministry of External Affairs) 10th annual Heads of Mission (Ambassadors and High Commissioners) conference, scheduled for September 13-15. The conference was due to be organised at the Statue of Unity in Gujarat, confirmed a Gujarat government official who asked not to be named, and the State authorities were making preparations for the conference. 'All our missions have been told to proactively work with respective governments on keeping the narrative on Kashmir positive,' the diplomat said. He indicated that the preparations would lead up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to the UN General Assembly on September 27. When asked, the MEA spokesperson denied the cancellation of the conference. He said the dates for it were 'only being discussed internally'. Jaishankar's task External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has been tasked with speaking to his counterparts in different regions, including Europe, where he visited the EU (Eiropean Union) headquarters in Brussels, as well as Hungary and Poland last week, and South East Asia, where he is travelling this week to reassure countries that might otherwise express concerns at the international fora. Despite his visit, the European Parliament had seen one session of its Foreign Affairs Committee on September 3, where MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) raised specific concerns over the restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir, and EU officials say they can't rule out another meeting on the issue. Meanwhile, Mr. Jaishankar, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale have been meeting various groups of envoys in Delhi in the past week to keep them briefed on the situation. A special MEA team, led by India's High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria, who was recently expelled, has been dispatched to Geneva for several weeks to work with the local embassy on countering any plans for a resolution or negative references to Kashmir during the session September 9-27. The team is 'meeting key stakeholders, including all Human Rights Council members to explain our positions and counter Pakistani propaganda,' an official said. President Kovind's mission President Ramnath Kovind is expected to deliver the same message during a week-long visit to Switzerland, Slovenia and Iceland. His trip to Switzerland will coincide with the start of the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva, and a statement issued by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) said that the 'situation in Kashmir and India's regional situation' were on the agenda for talks between Mr. Kovind and his Swiss counterpart Ueli Maurer in Bern on September 13. 'Each of these countries has their own concerns. So this is a very good setting to hear it at the highest level what our perspective is and what is there,' said MEA Secretary (West) on Friday, when asked about the talks on Kashmir. Of particular concern were a series of articles in international publications, including The Washington Post, The New York Times (NYT), The Wall Street Journal, BBC, The Economist, The Independent and The Guardian and other British and American news outlets, an official said, adding that the government had been monitoring them closely. According to one survey, more than 80% of the news coverage on Jammu and Kashmir has been 'critical' of the government's moves, and one study counted more than 65 articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times alone, most of which did not favour New Delhi's view of the situation. 'Some of our detractors are spreading false rumours, including through the U.S. media and it is malicious in nature,' Indian Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla told The Washington Times, on Thursday. Mr. Doval, who is normally reclusive, was also tasked with speaking to the foreign press. He held a briefing on Saturday for a group that included the NYT, the Post, Financial Times, AFP and others, even as the government braces for more political activity in Washington once Congress and the Senate reconvene for their session September 9-27. In the next few days, a US House of Representatives' hearing on 'Human Rights in South Asia' is also expected to take up the Kashmir issue, where Acting Assistant Secretary Alice Wells and Ambassador for International Religious Freedom (IRF) Sam Brownback have been invited to depose. A statement issued by House Subcommittee on Asia's Chairperson Brad Sherman said the hearing would 'review the humanitarian situation in Kashmir' and discuss the arrests of political activists, Internet and telephone blockade and the availability of food, medicine etc in the Valley.

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