25 Ambassadors reach Srinagar on two-day visit

Valley calling: Foreign delegates enjoying a shikara ride on the Dal Lake in Srinagar on Wednesday .  

Twenty five foreign Ambassadors arrived here on a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir to assess the situation after the Centre’s August 5 decision to revoke the erstwhile State’s special status. This is the second such trip in just 33 days.

They sought inputs from locals — including select politicians, elected grass-roots representatives, editors, traders and members of the civil society — on the measures required to move ahead.

Around 100 local delegates formed separate groups and met the envoys, including 10 from the European Union (EU). They were the same who met the Members of the European Parliament in October 2019 and 17 foreign envoys in January 2020. No politician from the regional parties, such as the National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), figured on the list of delegates drafted by the administration.

Significance of visit

The visit assumes significance because of U.S. President Donald Trump’s upcoming visit to India, and the EU’s plan to discuss the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and reading down of Article 370 in the European Parliament in March.

Because of the inclement weather, the delegation cancelled its visit to Baramulla in north Kashmir. The envoys stationed themselves in Srinagar and used the time to surf on the waters of the Dal Lake in local boats, called shikaras.

“A Kashmiri woman paddling her boat through the Dal Lake, Srinagar. Like Venice, lots of shopping points selling local handicrafts and boat resorts in the middle of the lake. Undoubtedly, the valley has a lot of potential for boosting tourism,” said Tahir Qadiry, the envoy from Afghanistan who tweeted a number of pictures.

Describing the situation “normal”, Mr. Qadiry said, “We saw schools and shops were open on our way from the Airport to the city.” Most envoys avoided talking to the media, though they said the visit was aimed at “assessing the situation”. During their interactions with local delegations, the envoys sought inputs on the situation arising after revocation of J&K’s special status and measures required to move ahead.

Calling Kashmir “the most beautiful place”, Frank Hans Dannenberg Castellanos from the Dominican Republic said, “We are here just as tourists.”

Later, the envoys met several delegations, including panch, sarpanch, ex-armymen, fruit growers, traders etc, at the Lalit Hotel, house next to the sub-jail where NC vice president Omar Abdullah is held.

“Article 370 was dare to all Kashmiris. The fact is it’s no more. We highlighted the need to provide domicile rights to people of J&K and restrict any urbanisation of the place that is home to many glaciers,” Congress leader Shoaib Lone told The Hindu. Mr. Lone was served a show-cause notice by the party for meeting the envoys in January. Besides three senior Congress leaders, two BJP leaders also briefed the envoys.

Tabish Habib, a female entrepreneur, said she desisted from raking up the issue of Article 370. “I have no views on it. I drew attention to underdeveloped education and health sectors, opening up the space for people to express their views and ensuring accountability of money infusion and economic reforms,” Ms. Habib told The Hindu.

On pointed question from the envoys if the situation has improved since August 5, Ms. Habib said, “It’s too early to say if there is change on the ground as the access to basic facilities remain denied.”

A delegation of local editors, sources said, told the envoys that “Article 370 has resulted in escalation in anger on the ground and demanded restoration of broadband internet services”. There were pointed questions, sources said, on measures to move on from the post August 5 situation.

Interestingly, several delegates praised the government’s move to book Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah under the Public Safety Act (PSA).

“The past regimes are responsible for the current situation in J&K. It has been 70 years of betrayal,” said Voice of Kashmir (VoK) general secretary Shujaat Wani, who demanded opening up of J&K for foreign direct investment.

Meanwhile, three youth who belonged to little-known group, Kashmir Youth Power, were detained by the police when they flashed placards and termed “envoys’ visit as wastage of money”. “Let the government focus on development of the Union Territory (UT) instead of spending money on these trips,” said one of the three detained youth.

In the evening, the envoys met the civil administration and the Army, which briefed them about Pakistan’s role in fomenting trouble and terrorism in J&K. They will visit Jammu on Thursday and meet Lieutenant Governor, Girish Chandra Murmu.

Kim will be proud

Iltija Mufti, daughter of PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, on Wednesday took potshots at the visit of the envoys.

“How lovely! [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un would be proud of such orchestrated diplomacy. The only thing missing is presence of three former J&K ex-CMs in this ‘curated shikara’. I’m sure they’d have lots to share,” she wrote on Twitter.

She was responding to the tweets of Mr. Qadiry. “Upon our arrival, we enjoyed a Shikara ride on Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir. Beautiful lake and hospitable people. I bought a beautiful Kashmiri ring from a boat serving as a shop,” was one of the tweets tagged to the Ministry of External Affairs by Mr. Qadiry.

In a direct tweet to the EU envoys, Ms. Mufti’s daughter wrote, “Hope the EU question the Government of India about Internet ban since 5th August, economic losses suffered, muzzling local media in Kashmir, 3 ex-CMs slapped with draconian PSA and troop deployment to create fear amongst people normalcy’s an illusion.”

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 2:14:38 PM |

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