‘We are not Muslim-hating Nazis’: EU lawmaker on delegation visiting Kashmir
Member of Germany’s rightwing Alternative for Germany (AFD) and of the European Parliament (EP), Lars Patrick Berg, was on the delegation of European parliamentarians currently visiting Kashmir, met PM Narendra Modi and other dignitaries in New Delhi but had to return to Germany for personal reasons. He spoke to Padma Rao Sundarji over the phone on the invitation to visit J&K and on media reports that the delegation consists primarily of ‘Muslim-hating’ rightwingers.
Q: Twenty-seven members of the European Parliament (EP) including yourself met PM Narendra Modi earlier this week. Your colleagues are currently in J&K as the first foreigners to travel there since August this year. Who invited you and when?
A: About 2-3 months ago, a cross-section of European parliamentarians belonging to various political groups including social democrats from some countries received a query from an Institute for Non-Aligned Studies in Delhi . They asked whether we were interested in travelling to J&K beginning with a briefing on the region and other subjects in New Delhi with none less than PM Narendra Modi himself. We accepted. I met Mr Modi, India’s foreign minister Mr Jaishankar and other high-ranking officials but had to return prematurely to Germany. I was extremely happy to meet all of them. After all, it’s not every day that the PM of a country interacts with ordinary parliamentarians like us.
Q: What did you know about J&K before you came here?
A: Obviously not enough. But in any given situation, it’s important to listen to both sides. So I spoke at length to Pakistan’s ambassador to the EU before I came to India. I have been invited to visit Pakistan and may go there next year to gather a clearer picture too.
Q: India’s opposition is up in arms over the fact that you Europeans have been invited to Kashmir, while they have been kept away. What is your view of that criticism?
A: Look, I am sure we are not better people than your opposition leaders in any way so I can understand that reaction. However, beyond saying that there must be a reason for your government to have taken such measures, I can’t comment further.
Q: The German and other European media have been slamming India for changing the administrative status of J&K. Do you share that criticism?
A: I think it is important that two parties with conflicting interests sit down to talk and find a peaceful solution to a conflict-ridden region.
Q: But which two parties are you referring to ? This was a decision taken on its own territory by India. Where do others figure ?
A: Well, the administrative change was, after all, in a region that Pakistan and even China, to an extent, lay claims to. So, it would be all the more important to ensure a peaceful solution to all that concerns such a region, and to also keep the global community informed.
Q Terror attacks like 26/11 in India were and continue to be at the hands of terrorists based in and supported by Pakistan. India will not talk to Pakistan as long as that continues. Surely you brought that point up when you spoke to the Pakistan ambassador to the EU before coming to India on this trip?
A. Europe has also been witness to several terrible terror attacks. Terrorism will continue to preoccupy the entire world. All the more reason why there should be transparency in dealings between states.
Q: But was the Pakistan ambassador you spoke to, ‘transparent’ on the subject of home-grown terror in his country ?
A: Look, all states have interests that seem legitimate from their point of view. The gentleman was fairly straightforward but we didn’t discuss the Mumbai terror attacks. Of course, I have Pakistan-based terror very much on my mind and it will be factored into all further deliberations on the region in Europe.
Q: Some Indian media concerns and social media commentators have remarked that the members of your EP delegation currently visiting Kashmir are mostly ‘extreme rightwing radical groups and Muslim-hating Nazis.” How do you react to that description of your party and others?
A. I don’t know where this impression is coming from. Yes, most in the delegation are from conservative political groups. But during our stay in India, I didn’t hear a single person - neither on our side nor on the Indian side - talk in terms of “hating Muslims”. There are those who live by the law and those who don’t, in every society. Contrary to popular perception as in the media you mention, conservative groups in the European Parliament are not Muslim-hating Nazis. We are concerned, most of all, with the problem of finding a common ‘global cultural identity’. There is globalization but no global culture yet. This has nothing to do with either racism or nationalism. It’s not a fair assessment that such media are making of us.
Q: What will your group of European parliamentarians do with your findings in J&K and India?
A: I will bring them up for discussion in the foreign affairs committee of the EU, of which I am a member. There will also be a final resolution on the findings of the trip in the European Parliament.