Over two months after the visit of around 20 Members of the European Parliament, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Thursday, 9 January, conducted a tour of diplomats from 16 countries as part of the Government of India’s initiative to convince the world that peace and normalcy had returned to the Valley.
Authorities have been making efforts to falsify criticism from Pakistan and several human rights groups besides reports in the international media claiming that the politically volatile Kashmir had been placed under “lockdown” with heavy deployment of security forces since the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special constitutional status on 5 August 2019.
Detention of scores of the mainstream politicians, including three former chief ministers – Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – and snapping of telephone and Internet services are being mentioned among New Delhi’s “repressive measures” in Kashmir after August when the erstwhile State was split into the Union Territories (UTs) of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.
Holding Pakistan, Militants, Separatists Responsible
Ambassador of the United States of America in India, Kenneth Ian Juster, was present among the diplomats from Vietnam, South Korea, Brazil, Niger, Nigeria, Morocco, Guyana, Argentina, Philippines, Norway, Maldives, Fiji, Togo, Bangladesh and Peru, who are scheduled to meet officials, members from civil society groups and non-profit organisations, select mainstream politicians and journalists, on Thursday and Friday in Srinagar and Jammu respectively.
In a significant development, over a dozen delegations at Hotel Lalit held Pakistan, militants and separatists responsible for the entire mess in Kashmir.
They invariably demanded restoration of statehood, domicile rights to protect land and government jobs, restoration of internet, release of all political detainees but – with a few exceptions – avoided reference to restoration of Articles 370 and 35A.
According to sources present in the meetings, the group of former Ministers and MLAs including two Congress leaders demanded large scale development, peace and support to trade and tourism.
Not one of them demanded restoration of the special status to Jammu and Kashmir.
In the meeting of the prominent editors, one of the political commentators asserted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah had taken “very bold steps” to create the culture of accountability in J&K. “Had leaders like them ruled In the last 30 years, Kashmir would have been completely different today,” he argued. It was emphasised that in several meetings, international media had projected a “completely distorted picture” of the post-5 August Kashmir. It was pointed out to the diplomats that no shops or businesses were shut after September and transport was operating as usual.
‘Deployment Proportionate to Threat Perception’
Chairpersons of Block Development Councils, Panches and Sarpanchs, heads of urban local bodies, NGOs, journalists and politicians were among those who met the visiting diplomats in Srinagar.
Secretary (West) in MEA Vikas Swarup and his team of officials from the Centre guided the diplomatic delegation straight to Srinagar Headquaters of Army’s 15 Corps where the General Officer Commanding Lt Gen Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon briefed the envoys from 16 countries about the general security scenario and what he called “Pakistan’s continuous efforts to sustain terrorism” in Kashmir.
Sources present during the diplomats’ interaction with the senior army officers revealed to The Quint that the official presentation was followed by a question and answer session. Asked why there was huge deployment of security forces, the army officers maintained that Kashmir was positioned as standing between three nuclear powers – China, Russia and Pakistan – and the neighbouring country (Pakistan) had become a “haven for terrorism” since 1980.
They told the diplomats that the deployments were proportionate to the threat perception “which increases whenever a foreign delegation or a political delegation from New Delhi visits Kashmir”.
Before their departure to Jammu late in the afternoon, the delegation members were driven along the banks of the famous Dal Lake where they stopped and clicked pictures.
The day’s most important deliberations happened at Hotel Lalit where the diplomats met a delegation of the mainstream parties and hosted a lunch for them. Former PDP Ministers Syed Altaf Bukhari, Abdul Majid Paddar and Ghulam Hassan Mir, now president of Democratic Party (Nationalist), former PDP MLAs Javed Hassan Baig, Abdul Rahim Rather, Noor Mohammd Sheikh, Rafi Ahmad Mir and two Congress leaders, namely Shoaib Lone and Hilal Ahmad Shah, were present in the meeting.
While Bukhari had been already expelled by Mehbooba Mufti’s party allegedly for “anti-party activities”, PDP has now announced expulsion of five of its former MLAs – Dilawar Mir, Javed Baig, Choudhary Qamar Hussain and Noor Mohammad Sheikh – and former MLC Zaffar Iqbal Manhas on account of their meeting with Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu in Jammu on 7 January.
Sources said that two more former MLAs, Abdul Majid Padder and Abdul Rahim Rather, would also be expelled in a day or two for being part of the rebel group which met the diplomats.
Other Parties Unlikely to Meet Diplomats
Ravinder Sharma, spokesperson of Jammu and Kashmir Congress Committee told The Quint that his party had immediately called for an explanation from Shoaib Lone and Hilal Shah asking them how they had met the diplomats without an invitation or even permission from the leadership.
“Let it be clear we are not questioning the credentials and intentions of the ambassadors. They are dignified representatives of their respective countries. Our objection is limited to the question that two of our leaders had gone there without an invitation and without the party’s knowledge and permission,” Sharma asserted. He said the Congress leaders were not going to meet the delegation even in Jammu. “So far, we have not been invited. If we get an invite, the party leadership will take a call”.
National Conference, CPI (M) and other parties, excluding BJP, are also unlikely to meet the visiting diplomats. NC’s President in Jammu province, Devender Sigh Rana, said:
“We have neither an invitation nor any programme of meeting this delegation. If we get an invitation, we will seek advice from our high command”.
However, many of the activists who have been associated with New Delhi’s reach out or track-2 diplomacy in the past, have invariably dismissed current tour of the diplomats as “an exercise without credibility”, echoing several opposition leaders’ complaint that outsiders were being taken to Kashmir on “guided tours” and the Indian Parliament members as well as foreign journalists and activists were being denied permission to visit the Valley.
International media has reported that a number of the European diplomats have refused to be part of the delegation as it was a “guided tour”.
Several newspapers and television channels have claimed that the European diplomats wanted to independently meet \people of their own choice and visit areas of their own selection.
However, these newspapers and agencies have not taken any of the European diplomats on record.
In the winter capital of Jammu on Friday, the delegation is also scheduled to visit a colony of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits at Jagti where it would learn about their living conditions.
“We will give them the first-hand accounts of how the Pakistan-sponsored terrorists killed the Pandits selectively as part of an ethnic cleansing and how we were uprooted and forced to migrate to safer places,” activist PL Kaul said.
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