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What The Envoys Did On Day One Of Their Kashmir Visit?

by Umar Mukhtar

SRINAGAR: A year and a half after the abrogation of Article 370, a delegation of 24 foreign envoys arrived in Srinagar on a two-day visit on Wednesday to assess the situation. Though two such delegations had visited Srinagar earlier, those visits took place during curfews and spontaneous strikes.

Foreign envoys interacting with a delegation of civil society members in Magam area of Budgam on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Soon after landing at the Srinagar Airport, the envoys straight away were driven to Magam Degree College where they were welcomed by recently elected DDC chairman Nazir Khan and other Panchayat representatives. While they were busy in interactions, Srinagar resorted to a spontaneous protest.

In Budgam college, reports said, the envoys were briefed on Panchayati Raj and other government programs. “I met the delegation and highlighted the importance of the Panchayat system and how the government has been successful in strengthening the panchayat system in the UT,” Khan, who contested as an independent candidate against the official PAGD candidate and eventually won the DDC chairman election. “Also, we talked about the developmental projects and the need for more development-related works in the valley. Apart from him, the delegation also interacted with locals and members of the civil society.”

Media reports said that French envoy Emmanuel Lenain and Italian envoy Vincenzo de Luca were seen talking to the locals in Magam block.

Pertinent to mention this is the third high-level delegation visiting Kashmir since August 5, 2019. Earlier, in 2020 February the Centre had also facilitated a visit of envoys from 23 European members of Parliament to the valley. A parliamentary committee also visited Kashmir though an all-party parliamentary delegation was demanded but not permitted to visit.

On their first day of Kashmir tour, the delegation members met more district development council members and civil society representatives. They were also driven to visit the revered Hazratbal shrine Dargah. Also, members from the media fraternity met the delegation at the dinner. Around a dozen of invited journalists met the delegation.

Foreign envoys visit Hazratbal shrine on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Sources privy to the delegation said that the delegation talked about press freedom with the journalists. Details of the discussions were not immediately known.

A day before the visit, Srinagar city witnessed an unexpected change as a series of bunkers were removed from various parts that popped up mostly after August 2019. These bunkers were also the reason behind the erratic traffic jams that the city was witnessing for a long.

In anticipation of the visit, 4G mobile Internet was also restored after more than 550 days. Earlier the government of India repeatedly stated that the security situation not ripe to restore the high-speed internet.

Also, the posh locality of the Srinagar city, Gupkar, got ‘Wall of Kindness’ overnight. Safia Abdullah, daughter of Farooq Abdullah tweeted the picture of the wall of kindness. “This has sprung up overnight on Gupkar Road. Perhaps it is to offer warm clothes to the EU delegation?” she tweeted.

Shutdown

However, people observed a complete shutdown in Srinagar and other parts of the Kashmir. The shutdown was spontaneous, as nobody had called for it.

A deserted view of Lal Chowk on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Shops in Lal Chowk and surrounding areas of the city remained shut as authorities deployed extra forces personnel to ensure that the visit of the envoys passes off without any incident.

Also, a complete shutdown was being observed in the Magam town of central Kashmir’s Budgam district All shops and business establishments in the area remained shut while traffic movement remained skeletal.

Meeting At Lalit

At SKICC and Lalit Hotel, reports said the visiting envoys met some elected representatives. Srinagar Mayor Junaid Mattu told reporters that the visiting dignitaries were apprised of the “landmark elections of DDC and urban local bodies.”

“The key issue discussed was the decentralisation of power and planning, empowerment of the grassroots representatives,” Mattu was quoted saying. “I believe the most important thing happening now is the empowerment of local elected representatives at the grassroots level.”

They also met the newly elected DDC Chairpersons and the heads of the municipal bodies.

Political Reactions

“A group of Foreign Envoys’ visiting Kashmir today is part of a futile Exercise on Public Relations by Government of India,” Prof Saifuddin Soz, former Union Minister said in a statement. “It is really unfortunate that the Government of India has not learned any lesson from its past mistakes.

“Masters have rightly said that if people do not learn a lesson from their mistakes, they are bound to repeat these mistakes, time and again,” it said. “As done earlier by the Government of India and Government of Jammu and Kashmir, these envoys’ will enjoy sightseeing in Kashmir and get back to their countries. Ultimately, this whole exercise will mean complete wastage of ‘Tax Payers’ Money’.

Soz, however, hoped the envoys will realize the fact that Kashmiris are “deeply sad and angry about the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India that happened to be the basis of their constitutional relationship with India and they (the people of Kashmir) have already started a democratic movement for restoration of their internal autonomy enshrined in Article 370 of the Constitution of India.”

Foreign envoys coming down from stairs at Budgam college on Wednesday, February 17, 2021. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Also, the former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti said that the delegations will come and go but the fact remains that the situation isn’t favourable in Jammu and Kashmir.

To a question about the approach of the central government and visit of the foreign delegation to J&K, Mehbooba said that the delegations keep coming but the situation is and not good at all. “The approach that has confined the movement of Jammu and Kashmir’s leadership is not good at all. We are being caged in our own homes,” she said. It is being termed as “curated tour” to showcase “normalcy”.

On The Eve Of Envoy Visit, Gupkar Gets ‘Wall Of Kindness’

Interestingly, the political parties were not invited to interact with the envoys. Congress’s chief in Jammu and Kashmir had regretted that despite his party being the national party, he was not invited to see the delegation.

The delegation includes envoys from Chile, Brazil, Cuba, Bolivia, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, EU, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Italy, Bangladesh, Malawi, Eritrea, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, Malaysia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Officials said the delegation includes envoys from some countries – Malaysia, Bangladesh, Senegal and Tajikistan, which are members of the OIC also.

Tomorrow the delegation is scheduled to visit Jammu where they will interact with Lt Governor Manoj Sinha besides other government officials.

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