At least six civil society groups, comprising 50 local people, who met the 27-member fact-finding delegation of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) recently in Srinagar were headed by ex-Army personnel.
Sources privy to the meetings held between the MEPs, drawn from the far-right parties, and the civil society groups said the foreign delegates were apprised by groups headed by Aslam Shah from Tanghdar, a retired Army personnel of the 104 Brigade; Mujeeb Ahmad of the 12 Brigade from north Kashmir and Muhammad Ashraf from Machil, Ehsan from Tanghdar and Maqsood Ahmad, who all served in the Army.
Most delegates belonged to Baramulla and Kupwara districts close to the Line of Control (LoC). These groups provided a first-hand account of the ground situation post withdrawal of J&K’s special status to the visiting dignitaries.
Sources said several civil society groups which met the MEPs at the Lalit Grand Palace hotel in Srinagar were introduced by General Officer Commanding, 15 Corps, Lt. General K.J.S. Dhillon to the delegation.
The MEPs’ delegation split themselves into several groups and held across-the-table interaction and posed pointed questions like “What Kashmiris think and want?”. Comprising five to eight people in each group, the 15 groups were introduced to the MEPs as locals, students, fruit growers and traders.
The group interactions, however, were closely monitored. “I was tapped from behind and taken to a corner when I touched the issue of Article 370 and raised the separate identity issue with one group of delegates,” one member told The Hindu .
Presented as locals
Besides the ex-Army personnel, several other groups working in tandem with the Army in north Kashmir were presented as local youth groups. Interestingly, the Army invite was accepted by two Congress leaders, Channi Singh and Farooq Andrabi; both were served a show cause notice by the party.
The MEPs, after the two-day visit on October 29-30, had claimed that they met a cross-section of civil society. They said the impression they got was that “the situation was not as bad as they thought, and people wanted peace, better life, better vocations and jobs”.
The visit is facing criticism because of the involvement of a little-known NGO, WESTT, in organising the EU delegation meeting with PM Narendra Modi and pushing for a visit to J&K.