Kashmir officials dismiss ‘state-sponsored jaunt’ as foreign envoys wrap up tour
Envoys of 24 countries from Europe, Africa and the Middle East have completed a visit of Jammu and Kashmir amid a blanket of security and a shutdown in some parts of the region. Local officials criticised the trip as a curated government tour "with no substance".
In the third such visit by foreign envoys to Jammu and Kashmir in the last 18 months, diplomats from 24 countries completed a two-day trip to the union territory to assess the ground situation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been keen to showcase its claims that the region has returned to normal after the decision to effectively strip the state of its special status and turn it into a union territory.
“We interacted with various people including the recently elected local body representatives. We wanted to see more but there were security considerations as well,” a senior diplomat from the European Union told RFI.
Some envoys who RFI spoke to refused to disclose their impressions of whether the ground situation was returning to normalcy but said they were apprised of the developments in the region after the restoration of the 4G internet early this month and the District Development Council (DDC) polls held last year.
“It was informative and we wish he had more time,” a diplomat from the Middle East told RFI.
The administration extended invitations to Valley-based civil society groups, media persons and grassroots representatives and DDC members to meet the delegation.
‘Event management’: Foreign envoys visit Kashmir amid shutdown https://t.co/sWX1zKHjE0— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) February 18, 2021
“The key issue discussed was the decentralisation of power and planning and empowerment of the grassroots representatives,” said Srinagar Municipal Corporation Mayor Junaid Mattu.
The envoys also visited the sacred Hazratbal Shrine on the banks of the Dal Lake before heading to the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre for meetings with civil society groups.
But not everyone was convinced by the trip, with some maintaining its purpose was only to meet only hand-picked individuals.
“It is a state-sponsored jaunt with no real significance or substance,” former chief minister Omar Abdullah told RFI. He was not allowed to meet up with the delegation and neither was the Peoples Democratic Party leader, Mehbooba Mufti.
In Srinagar, the summer capital, shops and business establishments remained and scores of Indian armed personnel manned the main roads and highways. Security bunkers were removed from the main roads in the city ahead of the delegation’s visit.
“The government-sponsored visit of foreign diplomats to Kashmir is an attempt by the government to tell the international community that things are improving in Kashmir,” security expert Happymon Jacob told RFI.
“The recent decision to restore 4G internet in Kashmir is yet another example of this policy. While these steps are good, they are unlikely to convince the international community of New Delhi’s positive intentions towards Kashmir unless they are more comprehensive, empathetic and politically sensitive,” he added.
This is the first visit by foreign diplomats to Jammu and Kashmir since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two batches of foreign diplomats had visited Jammu and Kashmir in January and February last year after the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019.
European Union Ambassador Ugo Astuto led the delegation ahead of Modi’s visit to Porto in May for the EU-India summit.
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