Nicolaus Fest, one of the MEPs taken to Kashmir, says Indian government didn’t dress up the state of affairs.
New Delhi: Nicolaus Fest, one of the 23 members of European Parliament (MEP) who were taken to Kashmir by the Government of India last week, spoke to The Sunday Guardian on what he saw there and on other issues. Fest is a member of the right-wing German political party Alternative für Deutschland or AfD. Excerpts:
Q: What is your assessment of the ground situation in Kashmir?
A: I have only seen the part of Srinagar and Kashmir I was driven through when we went from the airport to the hotel and to several places nearby. Armed forces and a high level of security were everywhere. Obviously, the situation is not a peaceful one and the numerous terrorist attacks require decisive measures by the government. If we had a similar situation in Germany, our government would probably act not very differently.
Q: Can you describe your interaction on the ground? Was it restricted or you had free movement?
A: No government would take the risk of jeopardising the life of foreign politicians it has invited. Therefore, our liberties to move freely were naturally restricted. But the interactions and talks with lawyers, medical doctors and other people from the Kashmir region weren’t restricted at all. Certainly, these people might have been handpicked. But all spoke freely and uninhibited about Article 370 and the constitutional change that took place in August—and there was both criticism and understanding for the government’s way.
Q: You are among the first group of foreign nationals who were allowed to visit Kashmir. How would you describe your experience? Are you convinced that much of Kashmir’s problem is because of Pakistan?
A: It is always good to inform yourself first hand and as a former journalist, I know when I see pictures I am supposed to see. Here, it was different. The situation in Kashmir is difficult and that is exactly what we saw. The government didn’t dress up the state of affairs. Still, I think the government should allow Opposition leaders to visit Kashmir as well. If politicians from Europe can visit Kashmir, politicians from India are much more entitled to go there.
Pakistan is considered one of the main supporters of international terrorism. Pakistan has invaded Kashmir some 60 years ago and has since then, never ceased to lay claim to the Indian part. So yes, I think the unrest in the Kashmir region mostly comes from Pakistan. Who else would have an interest in stirring up trouble? Certainly not Iceland or Brazil.
Q: Were you approached by the Indian government officially for this tour?
A: I was approached by the Institute for Non-Aligned Studies. As I always have been interested in the political hotspots of the world, I was certainly happy to have the chance to get information first-hand. Moreover, the prospect of being able to express my concerns regarding the situation of the Christian community in India to the Indian government made me instantly accept the invitation.
Q: There are concerns from several quarters that all the MEPs who were invited to visit Kashmir are “extreme-right” in their political ideology. How would you respond to this?
A: To my knowledge, deputies from all factions and parties were invited, and at least one liberal from Britain accepted. Why all the left, green and socialist MEPs turned down the invitation, I don’t know. Yet, it might have something to do with the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is regarded by European Leftist parties as a nationalist—which they are not fond of. While PM Modi (and the conservative German party I belong to which is far from being “extreme-right”) considers the nation state as the precondition for a multicultural state, the European left aims at multi-culturalism without any borders and without nation states. Here may lie the real reason why the deputies from the left parties didn’t accept the invitation.