Concerns about the subcontinent

Print edition : March 16, 2002

ON February 7, the European Parliament passed a resolution titled "Terrorist attacks in India, in particular against the Parliament", that was overwhelmingly favourable to India.

Resolution 86/PE 313.865 was adopted almost unanimously. But it did not start out that way. The initial resolution that was presented to Parliament was limited to the subject of Jammu and Kashmir and was intensely pro-Pakistan in its tenor. While it condemned the attack against the Indian Parliament, it also condemned "the continuing violations of human rights in Kashmir".

The draft resolution, presented by an Euro-MP known for her pro-Pakistan views, described the Jammu and Kashmir dispute as "the core source of tension between India and Pakistan" and urged the European Union to "offer its services as an honest broker to both India and Pakistan for resolving the Kashmir dispute". It called on its Committee for Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy to prepare a report on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

This draft made no mention of the attack against the American Centre in Kolkata, or the kidnapping of the journalist Daniel Pearl. Nor did it talk of minority rights or the massacre of Christians in Pakistan. All these elements, part of the pro-India resolution adopted on February 7, were debated and were added in amendments by Euro MPs keen on the adoption of a more balanced resolution.

The upshot of their lobbying was that all references in the draft to India's missile testing and the withdrawal of India's High Commissioner to Pakistan and mediation by the European Parliament were dropped. Instead, the operative paragraphs condemn attacks against the Christian community in Pakistan and notes the government's discriminatory attitude towards the Christian minority.

British Euro MP Liz Lynne, a Liberal Democrat, tabled the initial draft with support from James Elles (Conservative). Both have large numbers of voters of Pakistani origin in their respective constituencies and are known for their pro-Pakistan rhetoric.

In the past, governments and the public have tended to discount the European Parliament as a moribund body lacking teeth. It is no longer so. There is a growing perception in Europe that it should be strengthened to act as a counterweight to the all-powerful Commission and Council of Ministers. E.U. Ministers and governments have begun to take the opinions of MEPs seriously and the Parliament is to have much more power in the configuration of Europe in the review being undertaken by the newly formed European Convention.

Support for India came from the Belgian MEP Olivier Dupuis, who described the text circulated by Lynne and Elles as "unacceptable". Referring to the reference in the title of the resolution to "terrorist attacks in India", Dupuis said it was a declaration of solidarity with the victims of these attacks. He added: "I think the resolution underestimates these attacks, as we overestimate also, in my opinion, the significance of what today are only statements from President Musharraf. We have not seen the actual closing down of the madrassas, all the Koranic schools. It is therefore important that we maintain a strong firmness as regards Pakistan."

MEP Thomas Mann, a Christian Democrat (CDU) from Germany, proposed specific amendments to the initial Lynne draft. In Article 2 of the amended draft he circulated, Mann says: "The European Parliament condemns the attack by militant Pakistani Muslims on 22.01.02 on the U.S. cultural centre in Calcutta..." In Article 6, Mann's draft continues: "The European Parliament, taking into account the Kargil conflict of 1999, in (the) course of which Pakistani fighters not belonging to the army repeatedly infiltrated into Indian territory in Kashmir, demands clarity on who the state of Pakistan views as terrorists and whether these groups, in accordance with the rhetoric at that time, continue to be clarified as freedom fighters."

Support for India also came from Charles Tannock, the Conservative Foreign Affairs spokesman and MEP for London. "On the 13th December last year an appalling and vicious attack occurred on the Parliament of the Indian Union in New Delhi which is their most visible symbol of democracy and secular nationhood. Let's not underestimate the danger this posed as, had it succeeded, it could have heralded a state of war between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers with massive conventional land forces as well. ...The responsibility was soon traced to militant Islamic terrorist groups based in Pakistan, with full support and training from the Pakistani government, and also responsible for the earlier attacks in Srinagar against the Kashmir State Assembly. This is in clear violation of Security Council Resolution 1373 forbidding states from sponsoring terrorism against other states."

Describing Musharraf's January 13 speech as a promising start, Tannock said that Pakistan had yet "to accede to the request to extradite the 20 ring leaders of the plot and there are deep concerns that the kidnapping of the Wall Street Journal journalist may have involved renegade pro-Taliban members of the Pakistani security forces. There is new evidence to show that the comptroller of the shoe bomber Richard Reid (alas from my own country) was based in Pakistan... I therefore call upon Pakistan to ratify SAARC and all U.N. Conventions on terrorism and I congratulate India in its restraint in the face of provocation."

Similar sentiments were expressed by another friend of India, the Swedish MEP Christian D. Sacredeus who, in an emotional speech asked his fellow MEPs to imagine an attack on their own national parliaments sponsored by an unfriendly state. India's Mission in Brussels has made a vigorous effort to explain the situation on the ground in Kashmir, and although reports of human rights violations by Indian troops in Kashmir make Euro MPs indignant, they have begun to appreciate the bind in which New Delhi finds itself, faced as it is with systematic cross-border terrorism sponsored by Pakistan. But recent events in India, especially the muscle-flexing by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the post-Godhra savagery against the Muslim community in Gujarat, are likely to confirm the belief of certain European decision-makers that Kashmiri Muslims would be better off with a state of their own. Even before the Godhra massacre and its aftermath, which has received wide coverage in the European press, TV screens in Europe showed frenzied, trishul-wielding activists collecting at Ayodhya.

A French MEP told Frontline: "Hindu extremism in India is as dangerous as Muslim fanaticism or any other form of religious radicalism. For us in France, where a strict line separates religion from the state, a defiance of Republican institutions by religious extremists and the tolerance of such extremism by the state is both bewildering and unthinkable. In this particular case, even if we admit the attack on the train was planned, there is no excuse for the failure of the state to protect all its citizens equally. In France anti-Semitic elements regularly attack Jewish cemeteries and defile Jewish tombs. We have even had bomb attacks on Jewish cafes and schools. I shudder to think what would happen if the Jewish community in France decided to take justice into its own hands and pursue the perpetrators of such acts. In what happened in India, I see an alarming failure of the government - whether at the Centre or the State, to protect its citizens."

The MEP added: "The law of the jungle seems to have taken over, and minorities are bound to feel defenceless and vulnerable. Given the accusations levelled by respected bodies like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and in the light of what happened in Gujarat and elsewhere this past week, can Muslims in India, and the Kashmiri people in particular, ever hope to get a fair deal from India? We have criticised the discrimination against Christians in Pakistan. Can the same not be said of the Muslim and other minorities in India?"

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