Kashmir Indepth
Kashmir

Valley observers partial shutdown as 22 foreign diplomats begin visit to assess ground situation in Kashmir


Ishtiyaq Ahmad
Srinagar Feb 17 (KINS): Parts of Kashmir Wednesday observed shutdown as envoys of 22 countries began their two-day visit to Kashmir.
This is the fourth such visit since the Centre scrapped the former state’s special constitutional position and divided it into two Union Territories.
Diplomats of the European Union (EU) and other countries first drove to Magam town in Budgam district where, at a government-run degree college, they met some members of the District Development Council, students, and some elected village heads.
While no group had called for it, shops and business establishment remained closed in large parts of Srinagar where the diplomats were scheduled to meet officials, political leaders, civil society groups, journalists, traders, and people associated with tourism.
Visuals showed the diplomats being driven in a motorcade amid tight security from the airport. They were later seen meeting locals in Magam block of Budgam district, where the envoys were briefed about various civic matters.
Later in the day, the diplomats spoke to the mayor of Srinagar, chairpersons of the District Development Council and other local representatives. They also visited the Hazratbal shrine.
Sources told news agency Kashmir Indepth News Service (KINS) that Srinagar Municipal Corporation Mayor Junaid Mattu appraised visiting delegations about the elections of the DDC and urban local bodies.
One of the foreign delegates, Juan José Cortez Rojas, Charge d Affaires, Embassy of Bolivia in Delhi, told the news agency that the situation in the Union Territory was impressive. “What we are realising is that democracy took place here. People here are happy with the political decisions the central government took,” he said.
However, no meetings with former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have been included in the agenda.
Ahead of their visit to the Valley last year, the envoys had asked to meet the former chief ministers, who were all in detention at that time.
The delegation is led by European Union Ambassador Ugo Astuto, who is accompanied by French envoy Emmanuel Lenain and Italian envoy Vincenzo de Luca, among others. Diplomats from 24 countries are part of the group.
This includes Ambassadors from Portugal, Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, Estonia. Diplomats from other regions like Bangladesh, Chile, Brazil, and Ghana are also visiting, unidentified officials told The Hindu. Wednesday’s visit comes before Modi’s trip to Brussels for the India-European Union summit in May.
While the Kashmir trip has not been officially announced by India’s Ministry of External Affairs, the European Union’s European External Action Service confirmed that it had accepted New Delhi’s invitation.
“The Ambassador of the EU has accepted an invitation from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs to pay a visit to Kashmir. Ambassadors of EU Member States will also join,” Nabila Massrali, EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy told a national daily. “Any such visit organised by the Indian authorities would help to inform the E.U. of the situation on the ground, as part of the E.U.’s wider outreach and contacts.”
India has organised two visits for foreign envoys since it abrogated Article 370 and split Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories. The move was accompanied by a crackdown, including deployment of thousands of additional troops, a sweeping curfew, thousands of arrests, and a virtual communications blackout.
On Tuesday, workers in Srinagar were seen dismantling security bunkers and barricades, especially those dotting the main road connecting the Srinagar airport with the city.
On February 13, Peoples Democratic Party President Mehbooba Mufti had also mocked the government for planning the visit, asking officials how can the security forces ensure the delegation’s safety, when they cannot provide security to the locals. (KINS)

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