Srinagar, January 9: Envoys from 15 countries including the United States were shown around Srinagar on Thursday, the first visit by New Delhi-based diplomats since the government stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status and began a harsh crackdown five months ago.
The diplomats were driven by Indian authorities in a motorcade amid tight security from the airport to the military headquarters in Srinagar, where they were briefed on the security situation, an army officer said. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
They also held discussions with civil society members and some Kashmiri politicians, said Raveesh Kumar, spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
The objective of the visit, organized by the Union government, was for the envoys to see first-hand “how things have progressed and how normalcy has been restored to a large extent” in Kashmir since August, Kumar told reporters in New Delhi.
In October, a group of European Parliament members had visited the region, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan.
The delegation that visited Kashmir on Thursday included US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster and diplomats from Bangladesh, Vietnam, Norway, the Maldives, South Korea, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Argentina, the Philippines, Fiji, Uzbekistan, Peru and Togo.
Offices, shops and businesses were open in Srinagar on the cold winter day, but the diplomats did not stop to talk to people as they moved to different venues of their meetings.
They were to fly to Jammu, the winter capital of Kashmir, later Thursday and return to New Delhi on Friday.
Congress leader Jairam Ramesh pointed out the oddity of taking foreign diplomats to the troubled state but not allowing allowing Indian political leaders to freely visit it.
The National Conference said it was “disappointed” with the way the government brought envoys from various countries to “endorse” its “claims of normalcy” in the union territory. The party alleged that it was no more than a “guided tour” with access limited to “handpicked individuals who toe the government line”.
“The NC wishes to ask these envoys that if the situation in Jammu & Kashmir is “normal”, then why are scores of people, including three former chief ministers, under detention for almost 160 days and why have the people been denied access to the internet for over 5 months?” a statement issued by the party said.
Kumar dismissed as unfounded criticism of the visit, and said more such visits to Kashmir by New Delhi-based diplomats are likely in the near future.