NEW DELHI: On the eve of the Supreme Court’s verdict on the internet lockdown in Kashmir, envoys of 15 countries, including the US, visited the Valley as part of their two-day trip to Jammu and Kashmir to assess the ground situation, months after the Centre scrapped Article 370.After a briefing by the Army, the envoys met a small group of political leaders, led by former PDP lawmaker Altaf Bukhari.
The leaders called for the restoration of statehood to J&K, highlighted the “slowing development” since August and demanded that all political leaders, lawyers, and businessmen who are detained be released. They also called for the restoration of internet services. One of the leaders Ghulam Hassan Mir said: “We told the foreign delegation that revocation of Article 370 was unexpected. The Centre managed it in a way that there was no bloodshed. However, the credit for peace goes to the people who didn’t opt for violence.”
In Delhi, the foreign office rebutted as “unfounded”, criticism that the diplomats were on a guided tour. “This is the beginning. As the situation normalises, there will be freer interaction between delegations and the people,” it said.
A delegation of editors of nine local newspapers, representatives of NGOs, lesser-known civil society members and traders also met the envoys. However, Kashmir’s leading trade body Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry was not invited to meet the envoys.
Visiting team briefed on Valley’s security situation
Local BJP leaders also did not meet the delegation. The political leaders who met the foreign delegation said special privileges enjoyed by local residents under Article 370 should be restored. Besides Altaf Bukhari and Mir, the group of leaders included PDP’s Rafi Mir, Noor Mohammad Sheikh, Abdul Majid Paddar, Javed Baig and Abdul Rahim Rather, Hillal Shah, Shoaib Lone of the Congress. The delegation comprised envoys of the US, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Norway, Maldives, S. Korea, Morocco, Niger, Peru, Togo, Guyana, Fiji, The Philippines, Argentina, and Nigeria.
Upon arrival, they were given security briefing by army commanders including General Officer Commanding 15 Corps Lt Gen K J Dhillon at army headquarters in Srinagar. “The army commanders told them that Pakistan was continuously trying to push armed militants to foment trouble and disturb peace in the region,” a source said.
Replying to queries on why the envoys of several other countries were left out of the delegation, the MEA spokesperson said the government wanted to keep the size of the group small.“We wanted to include envoys from different geographical regions. Depending on the inputs we get from this visit, similar visits can be organised in the future. The EU envoys welcomed our decision, but wanted to visit the Valley in a group. Some found the notice too short to undertake the trip,” the spokesperson said.