New Delhi: The central government was not involved in organising the visit and meetings of former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik to Jammu and Kashmir, and he was on a private visit to India, clarified External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday.
The response came after Bondevik paid ‘surprise’ visits to top separatist leaders in Jammu and Kashmir including Syed Ali Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq last month.
Responding to the matter in Rajya Sabha, Swaraj said: “According to available information, former Prime Minister of Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik was on a private visit to India at the invitation of the Art of Living International Centre (Ved Vigyan Maha Vidya Peeth), Bengaluru. He reportedly visited Jammu and Kashmir on November 23 and met representatives of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Jammu and Kashmir Youth Development Forum, All Party Hurriyat Conference. Government of India was not involved in organising the visit and meetings.”
“It has also been reported that he (Bondevik) visited Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir from November 24-27,” she added.
Underlining that there is no scope for any third party role or mediation in the Kashmir issue, Swaraj further said: “There is no change in the government’s consistent and principled position that under the Simla Agreement (1972) and as reiterated in the Lahore Declaration (1999), both India and Pakistan are committed to address all outstanding issues bilaterally”.
Bondevik’s visits to Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir raised eyebrows, with National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah and his father and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah expressing concerns over the Norwegian premier’s visit.
“What are the Norwegians up to in Kashmir? Would either @SushmaSwaraj ji or Doval ji care to put the visit of the former Norwegian PM to both sides of the divided state in the correct context or do we have to rely on rumours & conjecture?” Omar Abdullah had tweeted.
Furthermore, Farooq Abdullah urged the central government to clarify Bondevik’s purpose of visit, saying he could not have come if they did not want him to. He also asked if the government will hold talks with the separatists.
“The government of India knows, he couldn’t have come if they didn’t want him to. So he has been there, he has talked to separatists, we do not know what talks have taken place, what is going to be the effect of it. The government of India must explain on what initiative did he come, what will be the outcome of it and whether they (government) will also talk to separatists, that is more important,” Farooq Abdullah had said.
India considers Kashmir as a bilateral issue and has not extended an invitation to any foreign leader or diplomat to visit the strife-torn region and meet the separatist leaders in the last few years, as per reports.
Bondevik, who is the chief of the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights, served as the Prime Minister of Norway, from 1997 to 2000, and again from 2001 to 2005.