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Jammu & Kashmir: ‘Guided tour’ for foreign envoys to disputed Kashmir

19th Feb 2021
Jammu & Kashmir: ‘Guided tour’ for foreign envoys to disputed Kashmir

By Hilal Mir


SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir, India (AA): As diplomats from nearly two dozen countries continue their two-day visit in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, commentators and politicians say that another “guided tour” would not change ground realities in the disputed region.

This is the third visit of foreign envoys to Kashmir since Aug. 5, 2019 when New Delhi scrapped the Himalayan valley’s autonomous status, and imposed a security and communications lockdown.

While parts of the capital Srinagar still remain shut in a sign of protest, on Wednesday the dignitaries were taken to a government college in Budgam district, as well as a holy Muslim shrine in Hazratbal.

They also met some elected counselors, journalists and business leaders in the evening.

Several top journalists representing both international and local media, who spoke to Anadolu Agency on the condition of anonymity, however, said they were not invited to the “interaction.”

On Thursday, the envoys visited headquarters of Indian army’s 15 Corps in Srinagar, which is responsible for military operations in the valley. They later left for Jammu, the region’s winter capital, to meet the Lt. governor and chief justice among other officials.

Hasnain Masoodi, an Indian lawmaker and former chief justice of the erstwhile state, said the latest visit is “nothing more than a guided tour” to create an impression that Kashmiris have accepted the enforced change, and all is well.

“Peace and silence are two different things. Peace will remain elusive till political aspirations are not addressed,” he told Anadolu Agency. “Government’s own statistics on violence belie the narrative that things are normal. People don’t have the right to assemble, to protest.”

Masoodi’s party, the National Conference, is part of an alliance that demands restoration of the Muslim majority region’s special status. The alliance won a majority in the recently held district council elections.

“The least that was expected of the government,” Masoodi said, “was to let those opposed to the Aug. 5 decision to interact with the envoys and present their point of view. Cherry-picking people to create a false narrative won’t help.”

Ahead of the visit, authorities removed security bunkers manned by paramilitary soldiers in Srinagar and its outskirts.

Sheikh Asif, a resident of Rajbagh, a posh residential area where containers were removed, told Anadolu Agency: “I am not surprised that the Indian government is trying to portray a rosy picture of Kashmir. But what pains me is that other nations have offered themselves as spectators of this drama. This is the worst kind of voyeurism.”

Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a political commentator and a former law professor, said India’s ruling party is emulating the main oppostion National Congress party that had in the past invited Soviet leaders to Kashmir.

“Although such visits won India Soviet Union’s veto support at the UN, they didn’t prevent the uprising of 1989. Similarly, the latest visit of foreign envoys will not change facts on the ground. Such visits have neither helped in the past, nor will they in the future,” he said.

Hussain said India appeared “desperate” to validate the Aug. 5 decision before the world, while it remains unpalatable to the local population.

“It is a great paradox that New Delhi calls Kashmir an internal matter, but brings in one foreign delegation after another to tell the world that everything is fine here.”

Mehbooba Mufti, the last chief minister of autonomous Kashmir, also downplayed the envoys’ visit, saying “delegations come and go but the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is not favorable.”

“We are caged in our homes,” she said, as several of her party leaders and members are still under detention.

Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also controlled by China.

Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir.

Some Kashmiri groups have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or unification with neighboring Pakistan.

According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have been killed and tortured in the conflict that flared up in 1989.

[ Photo: Members of foreign envoys (C) at the premises of revered shrine in Hazratbal Dargah Srinagar,Kashmir on February 17, 2021.  Photographer: Faisal Khan/AA]

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