Srinagar: Another group of foreign envoys arrived in Srinagar Wednesday for a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir to carry out a first-hand assessment of the situation in the Union territory, six months after the scrapping of Article 370.
The envoys arrived at the Srinagar airport at around 11 am but could not visit Baramulla town in north Kashmir due to bad weather. Instead, they were taken on a Shikhara ride on the famous Dal lake.
“Kashmir is fine,” said Naim Taher Qadri, a delegate from Afghanistan, while the Dominican Republic envoy Frank Hans Dannerberg Castellanos said, “Kashmir is a beautiful place. We are just here as tourists.”
The envoys represent over 20 countries, including France, Germany, Austria, New Zealand, Italy and the Netherlands.
This is a third visit by a foreign delegation since the Narendra Modi government scrapped Article 370 last August, putting the state in its longest lockdown which still continues in parts today. The earlier two visits were by a delegation of European Union parliamentarians and one of various countries, including the US ambassador to India.
The envoys were initially scheduled to be flown to Baramulla district in north Kashmir in choppers. However, due to bad weather, they were instead taken on Shikharas.
“It is fantastic to be here. I am happy to be here. We are here to see how things are,” said Danish diplomat Freddy Svane.
The boat ride began from the Sher-i-Kashmir International Convention Centre — the building were Kashmiri politicians, who were detained in August, were held till last November.
Most of the detained politicians have now been released, except for some of senior leadership of the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party. Last week, the Jammu and Kashmir administration charged former chief ministers Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti under the stringent Public Safety Act.
The delegation is expected to meet with officials from security agencies and the region’s administration at their hotel. An official said a cultural evening, followed by dinner, had also been planned.
The envoys will leave for Jammu Thursday morning, where they will meet with senior administration officials.
Most of the delegation members avoided talking to journalists.
A tweet by the Afghani envoy Qadri sparked a small controversy after several users questioned his access to the internet.
One question how are you using twitter handle in Kashmir???
— Gowhar Nazir | گوہر نذیر (@Gowharsgr) February 12, 2020
Your Excellency Mr. Ambassador please tell me which VPN are you using in Kashmir. I will also download that. It seems your VPN is fast than mine..
— 𝓞𝓫𝓪𝓲𝓭𝓾𝓵𝓵𝓪𝓱 𝓐𝓱𝓪𝓷𝓰𝓮𝓻 عبیداللہ آہنگر (@Mr_Ahanger) February 12, 2020
“Everything is fine here (Kashmir). It is the part of the world I always wanted to visit. It is really great to be here. The schools are open here… people are going to schools and shops,” Qadri also said.
However, schools have been closed for the winter vacation and will resume only in March.
Upon our arrival, we enjoyed a #Shikara ride on Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir. Beautiful lake and hospitable people. I bought a beautiful Kashmiri ring from a boat 🚣♀️ serving as a shop. @MEAIndia pic.twitter.com/NH5BljrNXQ
— Tahir Qadiry طاهر قادرى (@tahirqadiry) February 12, 2020
Reacting to the visit of envoys, Iltija Mufti, the daughter of incarcerated PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, said she hoped that the ambassadors will question the authorities about the internet ban and and detention of political leaders under the Public Safety Act.
Hope you & @EU_in_India question GOI about
•Internet ban since 5th August & economic losses suffered
•GOI muzzling local media in Kashmir
•release of detainees inc 3 ex CMs slapped with draconian PSA
•troop deployment to create fear amongst people
Normalcy’s an illusion https://t.co/Jn7lPCdFtj
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) February 12, 2020
Qadri later tweeted that Kashmiri media outlets the delegation had interacted with had urged the government to restore the internet broadband “as it is causing them so much problems to report and broadcast”.
(With PTI inputs)