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15 foreign envoys meet civil society in J-K

Source: PTI
Last updated on: January 09, 2020 22:11 IST

In the first such trip by foreign diplomats post August 5, envoys of 15 countries including the United States visited the Kashmir valley on Thursday where they interacted with select political representatives, civil society members as well as military top brass with the government rejecting criticism that it was a "guided tour".

IMAGE: US envoy to India Kenneth Juster and other diplomats from 15 countries on their arrival at the airport in Srinagar. Photograph: PTI Photo

US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster was among the Delhi-based envoys who spent about seven hours in Srinagar.

Last October, some members of European Parliament had visited Srinagar but envoys had so far not been allowed to visit the valley.

 

Spokesperson of the external affairs ministry, which facilitated the visit, said in New Delhi that the objective was to show first hand efforts made by the Centre to normalise the situation.

"Criticism that this is a guided tour is unfounded," he said.

The envoys flew to Jammu, the winter capital of the newly carved out union territory, in the evening where Lt Goveror G C Murmu hosted a dinner for them.

Earlier, they were flown in a chartered aircraft which landed at the technical airport in Srinagar. They were taken directly to the army cantonment for a briefing by top military brass, officials said.

IMAGE: Cavalcade of ambassadors of 15 countries passes through the TRC in Srinaga. Photograph: S Irfan/PTI Photo

This time there was no hartal call and shops and business establishments were functioning and civilian traffic was seen on the roads unlike the October visit of the delegation of Members of European Parliament, which was organised by a private NGO.

The delegation, accompanied by secretary-west of ministry of external affairs Vikas Swarup, was briefed by a team of top army officers led by Lt Gen K J S Dhillon, who heads the strategically-located XV corps in Kashmir, they said.

During the briefing, the army highlighted the trouble from the Pakistan side and their efforts to destablise the security situation in the Kashmir Valley, the officials said.

The envoys had a meeting with civil society members from the valley during which the US ambassador was seen having a long chat with owner of Real Kashmir Football Club Sandeep Chattoo.

IMAGE: Delegation of 15 foreign envoys meets political leaders from Jammu and Kashmir during their visit. Photograph: ANI Photo

Chattoo conveyed to the US envoy the importance of sports in building a strong youth and also highlighted the achievements of his club.

The three-year old football club has braved heavy odds to make a lasting impression on Indian football, its fascinating narrative attracting youths from the valley and rest of the country.

Later the envoys met political leaders including an eight-member People's Democratic Party delegation led by former minister Altaf Bukhari during which the local leaders apprised them about the possible future course of action after abrogation of Article 370, which gave special status to the erstwhile state.

Bukhari told reporters after the meeting that it was an exchange of ideas in a free and frank manner and added that the delegation comprised leaders cutting across party lines.

IMAGE: The delegation was briefed by Chinar Corps Commander Lieutenant General KJS Dhillon. Photograph: ANI Photo

"You can say that it was a meeting of leaders who are interested in bettering the life of people in Jammu and Kashmir," he said.

Minutes later, all the eight PDP members were dismissed from the party.

Bukhari had earlier this week met the Lt Governor and submitted a memorandum seeking domicile for people of the union territory.

The envoys also had a meeting with some of the editors of the local newspapers including Fayaz Kaloo of Greater Kashmir and Bashir Manzar.

IMAGE: Envoys pose for a photograph on the banks of Dal Lake. Photograph: ANI Photo

The visit of envoys has evoked sharp reactions from opposition parties with the Congress accusing the the government of adopting double standards by resorting to "guided tours" for foreign envoys, but not allowing Indian politicians to go there.

Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said in New Delhi that the party demands that the "government allows unfettered access to Jammu and Kashmir to all politicians and not resort to guided tours for envoys".

The National Conference issued a statement saying that it was disappointed with the way the foreign envoys were brought to the Valley to endorse claims of the centre about normalcy.

IMAGE: US envoy to India Kenneth Juster and other diplomats meets with civil society members. Photograph: PTI Photo

"The party wishes to ask these envoys if the situation is normal, why are scores of people including former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and Omar Abdullah under detention for last 160 days," it said.

The PDP said the visit of envoys of various countries was an attempt by the government to "normalise its clampdown" in the Valley, daring the Centre to allow the dignitaries to meet the detained political leaders.

"Today that @PMOIndia lets a 2nd batch of envoys to "see" the situation in #Kashmir, it only seems like an attempt to normalize the Govts own clampdown. The dare is on @PMOIndia will they ever let these Foreign Envoys meet political detainees who are jailed since 160 days now?" the PDP said on its official Twitter handle.

The envoys, who are in Srinagar as part of the government's diplomatic outreach to rebut Pakistan's propaganda on the Kashmir issue, later attended a reception hosted by Lt Governor G C Murmu.

IMAGE: This is the second visit of a foreign delegation to Jammu and Kashmir since August 5. Photograph: PTI Photo

Besides the US, the delegation includes diplomats from Bangladesh, Vietnam, Norway, Maldives, South Korea, Morocco, and Nigeria. They would return to Delhi on Friday.

Brazil and Uzbekistan's envoys Andre Aranha Correa do Lago and Farhod Arziev were also scheduled to visit Jammu and Kashmir.

However, they backed out.

This is the second visit of a foreign delegation to Jammu and Kashmir since August 5.

Earlier, Delhi-based think tank International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, a Delhi-based think tank took 23 EU MPs on a two-day visit to assess the situation in the union territory.

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