SRINAGAR, India – A group of foreign diplomats visited Kashmir on Wednesday under a heavy security cover, the third such delegation that was taken to the troubled region since India stripped it of its autonomy in August last year.
A police officer said the 25-member delegation of diplomats, including those from Canada, Germany, and France, arrived in the morning at the airport in Srinagar for a two-day visit, the main city of the disputed Himalayan region.
“Because of the diplomat’s visit, we have beefed up the security arrangements in and around Srinagar, by deploying extra para-military and police personnel,” the police officer told EFE, on condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak to the media.
The delegation, according to India’s foreign ministry, also includes envoys from Afghanistan, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Guinea, Hungary, Italy, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Rwanda, Slovak Republic, Tajikistan, Uganda, Uzbekistan, and European Union.
The diplomats are staying for a night halt at a heavily-guarded Srinagar hotel, where they met some local government officials and various delegations of unknown groups.
Their trip includes meetings with the army, politicians, civil society groups and a group of select journalists, according to sources privy to their plans.
Their scheduled trip north Kashmir district of Baramulla was delayed due to persistent bad weather, according to government sources.
The envoys took a boat ride in the famed Dal Lake of Srinagar before retiring to their hotel rooms, the sources said.
A diplomat from Afghanistan termed the situation in Kashmir “normal” as he saw Kashmiri children going to their schools.
However, he didn’t elaborate where he saw kids attending schools since all government and private-run educational institutions have been closed for winter break since December 2019. The schools are to re-open on Feb.24.
“Everything is normal and alright here, we saw children on way to their schools, which is a sign of normalcy,” the Afghan envoy told media persons after the boat ride.
Asked about the purpose of their visit, he said “we have come to meet people” and hurriedly went away without taking any more questions.
Kashmiris generally dismiss such visits as of little importance since these are undertaken under a heavy security cover and a constant government vigil to propagate what they say “an Indian viewpoint” about the situation in the Muslim-majority region that has been thrown into a fresh turmoil since New Delhi revoked its special status on Aug.5
“Such delegations have proved an eyewash so far because they toe the state line and do not honor the people’s viewpoint who are facing the brunt (of the state),” Toufeeq Ahmad, a university student, told EFE.
Farooq Sazgari, a handicraft dealer, said that “the whole world seems hand-in-glove with India to crush the peace-loving Kashmiri people.”
“The world is strongly advocating the right to freedom of expression, but why doesn’t the world support our right to self-determination,” Sazgari asked.
This is the second batch of foreign on a visit to Kashmir and comes a month after a delegation of ambassadors visited the valley in January. Earlier, a group of European parliament members had visited Kashmir in October last year.
The visit comes days after the government extended under a controversial law the detention of two former chief ministers – Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – who were held when the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s special status.
The government has justified its actions in Kashmir saying they are necessary to battle a three-decade-long armed insurgency that it blames on Pakistan. Islamabad, however, denies the allegation that it was fomenting any trouble in the region.
The move to revoke the region’s autonomy and subsequent crackdown on politicians and activists have drawn widespread global criticism.