Members from the European Parliament will visit Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on Tuesday. They are going in their personal, not professional capacity. Anybody with an iota of knowledge about diplomacy and statecraft knows the two are inseparable. It is a European Union (EU) delegation for all practical purposes. The government of India will take them on a guided tour wanting to show them what New Delhi wants them to see. The EU members will also play the game, seeing what they want to see even if the parameters are hemmed in. What does this mean beyond a new kind of confidence and conversation India is seeking to create?
Let me explain. One of the first stories I did when I arrived in Geneva was to get a briefing with an international aid organisation preparing for a prison visit in a war-torn country in the Middle East. The delegation included the usual suspects, but interestingly enough one medical doctor (there were three in the team) and an architect were only identified as team members.
READ | J&K BDC elections a wake up call from India to Washington & London
It was explained to me that all countries hide their prisoners in special parts of prisons that escape people not trained to “read“ the full dimensions of a building once they are in it. Architects can tell a false dead end the moment they spot one and I was shown pictures of how this is done. In fact, these architects can take a mind picture of the full dimensions of a building even before entering it. The unidentified doctor in the team was a psychiatrist who could identify behaviour changes resulting from long periods of imprisonment while the declared doctors would examine the obvious wounds separating between those that are war-related and others that are the result of torture.
I share this to make the point that members of the EU visiting J&K are not going on a picnic. They know exactly what they are being used for and even more than that they know what to look for. This doesn’t make them extra-intelligent. It just makes them differently alert to stage-managed performances. Maybe some of them have a security background, maybe some come from a civil and political rights training and some maybe spooks. And let us not for a moment forget that some of them are masters of propaganda and hide and seek and can tell a false note even before it is struck.
India has made its stand on terrorism clear, most recently at the G20 in France where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Emmanuel Macron vowed to fight the ISIS/Daesh with renewed vigour and cooperation. The EU team is not looking for terrorists behind cupboards and under carpets – they have such attacks at home. Few have any idea of what terrorism looks like in India as the infamous Anglo Saxon five they read or listen to just called Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi an “…austere scholar.”
It is important to remember that India trades with many EU countries separately and also with EU as a bloc. Business abhors terrorism and the very fact that the visitors are going to a troubled area during a very troubled moment in world history is a signature of confidence. Among the guests are original colonisers and two nuclear-weapon states. They will debrief themselves as a team, the EU and also their headquarters individually. Democracies understand the pulls and pushes of democracies. All this sounds simple, but it is not.
It is not simple because the world is passing through a tumultuous period the finer points of which are missed by countries not used to nuance. The United States (US) gets the first prize for looking at all issues in a black and white frame and fighting all its wars thousands of miles away from its shores. Relations between the US and the EU have never been as bad as they are in recent months including in trade or arms control (NATO), human rights and the environment.
The US has eliminated al-Baghdadi but that in no way signals the end of terror in the region and beyond. That “beyond” includes a medley of Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – all countries with which India and the EU have independent and sometimes connected relationships and land connectivity is only one of the issues. Think China. Think Russia and China. Think Eurasia and the role India can play in this new blueprint.
Perhaps the most important space India is seeking to occupy is mind-space in a region surrounded by dictators and warlords. Context is important in most settings, but in diplomacy it is fairly critical. Context influences policy as much as language influences thinking.
The visitors will come to J&K armed with their own sets of lenses. India will provide the context and hopefully, new language. A lot of diplomacy takes place in silence. Like that architect who can take one look at a dead end and insist to go beyond.
READ| Fake News: When the Oxymoron becomes a Business Model
At the time of writing, there’s news that a section of Anglo Saxon media (read Washington and London) is seeking permission to visit some areas of J&K. If I had my way, I’d grant them permission immediately. Some of them like The Washington Post will write ridiculous obits (e.g. Baghdadi) while others may do a better job and yet others bring stories no one knew existed. There will be professional ambulance chasers and propagandists, but there will also be the Indian media for whom J&K is not just another exotic story fighting for headlines on a Tuesday evening.
Democracy is an article of faith and media is its first port of call. The EU recognises democracy in ways the US cannot because their histories are different. The Continent is more nuanced about democracy and human rights because it has arrived at that spot after thousands of years of war and negotiations. Peace in Europe is a hard-earned place and economic prosperity is one of the main reasons the Continent stands together after having fought the bloodiest wars in human history. Maybe the EU delegation will be informed by some of their own history when they visit J&K.
India today stands at a critical juncture and the symbolism of the EU visit to one of its most troubled spots cannot be missed. It is important to maintain the conversation, however long and difficult that may be because at stake is innocent lives, democracy and economic progress – the basic tenets of the Narendra Modi government.