The MEA said the envoys’ visit was organised given the prevailing situation in J&K.
Srinagar/New Delhi: A delegation of 16 New Delhi-based envoys and other senior diplomats on Thursday began a two-day visit to Srinagar and Jammu for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation in Kashmir in the backdrop of New Delhi stripping the erstwhile state of its special status and splitting it up into two Union territories.
The delegation, which includes US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster, is touring J&K at the invitation of the external affairs ministry, which said they wanted to see firsthand the efforts by the government to normalise the situation in the UT. The other envoys and senior diplomats who are part of the delegation are from South Korea, Brazil, Bangladesh, Peru, Argentina, Niger, Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Vietnam, the Philippines, Norway and the Maldives. During their day-long stay in Srinagar, the envoys met security officials, political leaders, civil society groups, artistes and the media, officials said. In the evening, they flew into the UT’s winter capital Jammu, where they met lieutenant-governor Girish Chander Murmu, his advisers and senior officials over dinner.
On the second leg of their trip, the team will meet leaders and representatives of various political parties, social organisations, civil society groups and media persons. They will also visit the Jagti migrant camp of displaced Kashmiri Pandits before flying back to New Delhi.
Soon after their arrival in Srinagar in a chartered plane, the delegation was briefed by the Army’s Chinar Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon, at the Badami Bagh cantonment on the overall security situation in the hinterland and along the Line of Control, cross-border “terrorism” and “frequent ceasefire violations” by Pakistani troops.
The MEA said the envoys’ visit was organised given the prevailing situation in J&K. A report from Delhi said European Union ambassadors were not a part of the group due to certain restrictions. But officials said this was “unfounded and mischievous”.
The MEA said the EU envoys wanted to visit Kashmir in a group but “we did not extend an invite to all”. It said the envoys’ visit to J&K was not over, adding “similar visits to Kashmir can be organised in future, including by EU envoys”.
It is more than five months after the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcating J&K that the government invited the first group of New Delhi-based diplomats to travel to Srinagar and Jammu.
The visit, however, evoked criticism by the Congress, National Conference, People’s Democratic Party, CPI(M) and some other mainstream parties, terming it a “guided tour aimed at misleading the world about the ground realities in J&K”. The Congress also questioned the government’s wisdom and probity in inviting foreign diplomats to visit J&K when the country’s political leaders, including Members of Parliament, were being denied access to the erstwhile state. State CPI(M) leader Muhammad Tarigami said: “I fail to understand why the government is conducting such tours of foreign diplomats to J&K, whose political leaders remain incarcerated for more than five months, no political activity is allowed, the Internet remains shut and no interaction is taking place with the average citizen.” He added: “Also, the government should know the issues confronting J&K can be resolved only by taking its people onboard and not hosting lunches and dinners for foreign envoys.”
The absence of EU ambassadors from the delegation has raised eyebrows. In response to media reports that the EU envoys did not want to be part of a “guided tour”, the MEA said this was factually incorrect. It said the EU envoys wanted to visit J&K as a group, but the MEA wanted the group visiting on Thursday to include envoys from several regions in the world.
The MEA said: “We need to correct a perception. There are reports EU ambassadors did not go as they thought this was a guided tour. Our understanding is very different. We wanted this group to be broad-based. And there were restrictions in numbers. You can’t take too large a number, when you are moving and organising meetings. So we wanted this group to be a manageable size. We wanted this group to represent different geographical regions.
“Subsequently, we will try to organise similar visits to J&K. On EU, when we approached them, they welcomed the decision as many of their ambassadors had requested a visit to J&K. Our understanding is that they wanted to visit in a group. On many issues, they take a group position. The invitation was not sent to all members of the group as it would have clearly made the group too big. We were also told by some of the members that this was organised at short notice. At no stage did we tell them a certain meeting cannot be organised... We are looking at the possibility of organising a visit by EU ambassadors. Let’s see how it works out.”