Team of 17 envoys to visit Kashmir

Team of 17 envoys to visit Kashmir

Ambassadors of European countries reject invite, seek freedom to meet people

The government will take a delegation of foreign envoys and senior diplomats for a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday, in an official visit which marks the first time diplomats have been given access to the former State since the dilution of Article 370 in August 2019.

Officials confirmed to The Hindu that arrangements have been made for the delegation of about 17 envoys, that will comprise diplomats from the United States and Norway, four countries in South America and Africa each, and others from Asian countries including Bangladesh and the Maldives.

Envoys of European Union countries who were invited however, decided not to accept the invitation, asking for more freedom to travel and meet people “unescorted”, diplomatic sources said, drawing unfavourable parallels to a visit by a group of European Parliament members (MEPs) who were taken on a “guided tour” under heavy escort in October last year. The government has decided to organise a separate visit for EU envoys at a later date.

Meanwhile, others like Australia, Afghanistan and Gulf countries invited declined due to other commitments. While many Ambassadors are still on winter vacations and have not returned to Delhi, some are dealing with the fallout of U.S.-Iran tensions on the region, diplomats said.

When asked, government sources denied any suggestion that EU envoys had pulled out due to restrictions in the programme, saying the government was unable to accommodate all 28 countries on this trip.

“We wanted to take a global group of envoys to J&K with only some EU Ambassadors, and not all were asked to join,” said an official source. “The group was free to interact with people subject to security considerations. In any case, no Ambassador had specifically asked to meet anyone who was detained,” the source added.

In particular, the EU countries reportedly expressed a desire to meet with the three former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir Dr. Farooq Abdullah, who is also a Member of Parliament, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, all of whom have been in detention for five months now.

“This [access to the Chief Ministers] is not a condition we can accept at this time,” said an official involved in the planning of the visit in Srinagar.

The visit is being criticised by members of the Opposition, as the government has restricted travel for Indian politicians thus far. “It is the Indian parliamentarians who should have the first right to visit Srinagar and speak to people there and reassure them,” said Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi, calling the envoy tour an “attempt to whitewash” continuing restrictions in the Valley.

According to the schedule the delegation will travel first to Srinagar and then to Jammu. The Army will brief the delegation at its headquarters at Badamibagh cantonment first and will coordinate meetings for them. Separate groups of local journalists, elected municipal counsellors and village heads, civil society groups and traders are likely to meet the envoys in the hotel. However, the president of the Valley’s association of trade bodies, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) Sheikh Ashiq said he was not aware of the visit, nor had he been invited to meet with the first round of diplomats.

In Jammu, the delegation is likely to also be shown some tourist spots, and will be hosted by Lieutenant-Governor of the Union Territory Girish Chandra Murmu.

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