NATIONAL

Centre invites foreign envoys to Srinagar

Trouble brewing:Clashes broke out in Srinagar after a teenage student was run over by a police vehicle on Tuesday.NISSAR AHMAD

Trouble brewing:Clashes broke out in Srinagar after a teenage student was run over by a police vehicle on Tuesday.NISSAR AHMAD  

Five months after its decision on Article 370, the government has invited the first group of Delhi-based diplomats to travel to Srinagar and assess the situation there, and is now awaiting a response from them.

Unlike the controversial visit of the Members of European Parliament (MEPs) delegation in October, which was invited by a British businesswoman and a think tank in Delhi, this visit is being organised completely by the government, including the Ministries of External Affairs, Home Affairs and Defence.

Arrangements in place

According to sources in Delhi and Srinagar, security and hotel and travel arrangements are in place for the visit, expected as early as this week.

The Hindu has learnt that the invitation has been extended to nearly 20 Ambassadors and senior diplomats from the European Union, Gulf countries and others to visit Kashmir, and government agencies have organised for them to meet with various civil society groups, journalists, sarpanchs, municipal councillors as well as local businessmen there.

Officials have already contacted many of the interlocutors expected to meet the delegation, and the logistics of the visit will be organised by the Army. Several interactions are scheduled at the Badamibagh Cantonment area.

However, it is unclear whether the first batch of visitors will go to Jammu and Kashmir as originally planned on January 9, and whether all invitees, particularly those from the European Union countries, will attend. According to diplomats from at least four of the countries invited, none of whom agreed to be identified, the invitation has been discussed at a meeting of all European Union (EU) missions in Delhi, but they have not yet confirmed their acceptance.

“The proposal [from the government] is being discussed by EU members. We have decided that our response will be a joint one, common to us all,” said one of the diplomats.

Asked why there has been no confirmation for the programme as yet, a diplomat told The Hindu that the group of Ambassadors were not satisfied to undertake the visit on the same terms as the MEPs delegation was taken on, and wanted more access to their own contacts on the ground as well as a wider range of areas to visit. “Our response will depend on how much flexibility the government shows and whether there will be a balance of views taken into account.” After the last visit, at least one British MEP had expressed his unhappiness.

Officials said a wider range of interlocutors had indeed been planned, and different agencies had been asked to prepare lists well in advance for the diplomats’ visit, which had been due to take place shortly after the MEP delegation in October, but couldn’t be held. Many embassies in Delhi, including the United Kingdom, United States and Germany, had expressed their displeasure over not being allowed to visit J&K after August 5.

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