Envoys from 16 nations visit Kashmir, assess ground situation
Envoys from 16 nations including US Ambassador to India, Kenneth I Juster visited Kashmir on Thursday, the first visit by the diplomats since August 5, 2019 when Jammu Kashmir’s special status was revoked and the State bifurcated into two union territories.
After the diplomats landed at the Srinagar’s Technical Airport on a special chartered flight, they took the busy M A Road and were “surprised” to see the “bustling activity” on the Srinagar streets and drove to the Army strategic 15 Corps in Srinagar where they were briefed about the security situation in Kashmir by top Army commanders led by General Officer Commanding (GoC) 15 Corps, Lt Gen K J S Dhillon.
Top officials from the newly-carved out union territory of Jammu Kashmir received the delegation, which later in the day left for Jammu where they stayed for the night.
Later the delegation met the members of civil society and a group of politicians at a hotel in the city.
Senior politicians including former ministers Syed Altaf Bukhari, Ghulam Hassan Mir and Rafi Ahmad Mir besides former legislators Noor Muhammad Sheikh, Shoib Iqbal Lone, Majid Paddar, Abdul Rahim Rather and Hilal Shah also met the delegation.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, Bukhari said, “It was an exchange of ideas in a free and frank manner. The delegation comprised leaders cutting across party lines. You can say that it was a meeting of leaders who are interested in bettering the life of people in Jammu Kashmir.”
The envoys, who are here as part of the government’s diplomatic outreach to rebut Pakistan’s version on Kashmir, met Lt Governor Girish Chander Murmu.
In the evening, the Lt Governor hosted the dinner for the visiting delegation in Jammu.
Apart from the US Ambassador to India, Kenneth I Juster, the delegation includes diplomats from Bangladesh, Vietnam, Norway, Maldives, South Korea, Morocco, and Nigeria.
The 16-member diplomatic team would return to Delhi on Friday.
Earlier, a delegation of European Union (EU) parliamentarians visited Kashmir and assessed the ground situation here.
Following their visit, the envoys of various EU countries are understood to have conveyed that they would visit the newly-carved union territory on a different date.
They are also believed to have stressed on meeting three former chief ministers, Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, who are under detention.
Authorities said diplomats from various nations had requested Government of India for visiting the Valley in order to get a first-hand account of the situation in Kashmir following the August 5 decision of abrogating Article 370 and bifurcating it into two union territories – Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh.
This was the second visit of a foreign delegation to Jammu Kashmir since August 5.
Brazil and Uzbekistan’s envoys Andre Aranha Correa do Lago and Farhod Arziev were also scheduled to visit Jammu Kashmir but backed out due to their preoccupation, the officials said.
Earlier, Delhi-based think tank International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies took 23 EU MPs on a two-day visit to assess the situation in Jammu Kashmir.
The visiting delegation members spent seven hours in the summer capital, Srinagar.
In the evening, the envoys flew to the winter capital, Jammu.
Some of the visiting delegation members were “surprised” to see the “hustle and bustle” around the City Centre and said it was surprising that they had been misled by the reportage of some reputed international media organisations on Kashmir situation.
There was no shutdown call, shops and business establishments were functioning, and civilian traffic was seen on the roads, they said.
This was quite contrary to the October visit of the delegation of EU MPs.
The delegation was accompanied by Secretary (West) of Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup.
During the meeting of diplomats with the civil society members of Kashmir, the US ambassador was seen having a long chat with owner of Real Kashmir Football Club, Sandeep Chattoo.
The envoys also had a meeting with some editors of the local newspapers who emphasized on the need to restore internet services in the Valley that could help journalists work smoothly.