15 envoys in J&K: Detentions, Article 370 come up in meetings

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Envoys from 15 countries in Srinagar at the start of a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, on Thursday. (Express)

Five months after the Centre revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, envoys of 15 countries reached Srinagar on Thursday on a two-day visit to the Union Territory. After a security review briefing by 15 Corps commander Lieutenant General K J S Dhillon, the delegation went to a hotel where they held a series of meetings.

Sources said the military briefing focused on cross-border terrorism with videos of infiltration. During their meeting with political leaders, there were questions about Article 370 and Article 35 A and release of political detainees, sources said. However, the general sense was to move on and build a peaceful future for J&K, sources said. The envoys had an informal chat with nearly 100 youths. A group of mediapersons also met the envoys and raised the issue of internet restrictions.

“The envoys drove through Srinagar, could get the feel of traffic, open shops. Overall, the visit has gone off well so far,” the source said. The envoys left for Jammu later in the day where they were briefed by Lieutenant General of Jammu and Kashmir G C Murmu, Chief Secretary B V R Subrahmanyam and DGP Dilbagh Singh about the situation in the Union Territory.

Besides the US, the group comprises envoys from South Korea, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Fiji, Maldives, Norway, Philippines, Morocco, Argentina, Peru, Niger, Nigeria, Guyana and Togo, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has said.

Among the politicians who met the envoys were former PDP minister Altaf Bukhari, the party’s chief spokesperson Rafi Ahmed Mir and former PDP MLAs Dilawar Mir, Noor Mohammad Sheikh and Abdul Rahim Rather.

In a communique issued shortly after the meeting, the PDP expelled the members who met the envoys from the party’s primary membership. “...it has come to the attention of the party that certain party leaders have been part of the parleys which go against the interests of the state, official position and core beliefs of the party,” the PDP said in a statement.

The party’s disciplinary committee expelled Dilawar Mir, Rafi Ahmed Mir, Zaffar Iqbal Manhas, Choudhary Qamar Hussain, Raja Manzoor, Javaid Beigh, Abdul Majeed Padroo and Abdul Rahim Rather. The group had earlier met Lieutenant General G C Murmu on Tuesday, reportedly to submit a memorandum on “socio-economic and political aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir”.

The Congress issued a show cause notice to two members — Hilal Shah, chairman of Anantnag municipal committee, and Shuaib Lone, district party president in Baramulla — for attending the meeting with the envoys.

State Congress chief Ghulam Ahmed Mir said, “The government did not extend any invite to the Congress officially, so no one should have gone.”

In the national capital, the Congress accused the government of “adopting double standards” by organising “guided tours” for foreign envoys, but not allowing Indian politicians to visit J&K. Senior party leader Jairam Ramesh asked reporters, “We do not oppose this visit of foreign envoys. But when our own politicians are not allowed to go to Jammu and Kashmir to meet people there, what is the purpose of taking foreign envoys there?

MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar responded that the criticism is unfounded and that the objective of taking envoys to Kashmir was to help them see efforts to restore normalcy.

Asked why envoys from the countries of the European Union declined to be part of the group, Kumar said they wanted to visit Jammu and Kashmir in a group, but the government did not extend invite to all. “We wanted the group to be of manageable size. There was a constraint of numbers,” he said.