Briefings, meetings and boat rides organized for their benefit
Srinagar: A second batch of New Delhi-based diplomats from over two dozen countries began a two-day tour of Jammu & Kashmir for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation in the troubled territory.
Reports emanating from Delhi said the Russian ambassador to India declined an invitation to join the delegation.
In Srinagar, the delegation was briefed by top Army officers on the security situation in the districts and along the Line of Control (LoC).
They were told of Pakistan’s “unremitting attempts to push in militants and terrorists and perpetrate ceasefire violations” along the de facto border, a defence spokesman said here.
Earlier in the day, the visiting envoys interacted with fruit growers and traders in Baramulla district and had a series of meetings with representatives of political parties, trade unions, civil society groups, women entrepreneurs and a select group of media persons--all handpicked by their hosts.
They were also treated to shikara rides on the Dal lake.
After a night’s stay in a luxury Srinagar hotel, the delegation will visit the winter capital Jammu on Thursday where they are scheduled to meet Lt Gov Girish Chandra Murmu, his advisors and government functionaries, officials of the police and security forces and leaders and representatives of various political parties, civil society groups and business leaders.
This is the third visit by foreign diplomats and lawmakers to Jammu & Kashmir since August 5 last year, when the erstwhile state was stripped of its special status and bifurcated into two union territories.
Supervised by the Union Home Ministry, the visits have been strongly criticized by the opposition which questioned the wisdom of “wasting money and other resources of the state by sponsoring such pleasure trips.”
Congress leader Saifuddin Soz said, “The visiting delegation should be allowed to meet the three former chief ministers who have been incarcerated. I too have some ideas to share with them but I wonder if they will be allowed to meet me. I’ve been under house arrest for the past six months.”
He added, “Taking them on shikara rides on the Dal lake and allowing them to meet only people handpicked by the government agencies are not going to help. Such tamashas have in the past left a negative impact on the psyche of the people, especially in the Kashmir Valley.”
Presence of EU diplomats
This batch of diplomats being conducted around Kashmir includes those from Canada, Austria, Uzbekistan, Uganda, Slovak Republic, Netherlands, Namibia, Kyrgyz Republic, Bulgaria, Germany, Tajikistan, France, Mexico, Denmark, Italy, Afghanistan, New Zealand, Poland and Rwanda.
The presence of diplomats from European Union member countries in this delegation is significant. The EU Parliament recently saw moves to bring in a joint draft resolution on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the Kashmir situation. A vote on the resolution was later deferred.
In mid January, envoys of 15 countries including United States ambassador to India Kenneth I. Juster and diplomats from Vietnam, South Korea, Brazil, Niger, Nigeria, Morocco, Guyana, Argentina, Philippines, Norway, Maldives, Fiji, Togo, Bangladesh and Peru had visited J&K at the invitation of the MEA which had said that they wanted to see firsthand the efforts being made by the government to normalise situation in the union territory.
In October last year, 27 MPs, drawn mainly from far-right parties, of 11 European countries visited Srinagar but the EU embassy in Delhi was quick to clarify then that they were in India in their “personal capacity” and not as part of an official delegation.
That visit too had drawn criticism by the Congress, National Conference (NC), People’s Democratic Party (PDP), CPM and other mainstream parties, terming it a “guided tour aimed at misleading the world about the ground realities in J&K.” The opposition and a section of the media had in particular criticised the manner in which European MPs were brought to Srinagar.
The Congress also questioned the wisdom and probity of the government in inviting foreign diplomats to visit J&K when the country’s own political leaders including MPs are being denied access to the erstwhile state.
However, Union minister of state for home affairs G. Kishan Reddy told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday that there are no restrictions on Indian citizens visitng J&K.