SRINAGAR – As envoys from 15 nations, including the US arrived here on a ‘fact finding mission’ ambassadors from European countries have rejected New Delhi’s invitation for a two-day Kashmir visit, seeking instead the “freedom to meet the people unescorted”, media reports said on Wednesday.
Envoys from 15 countries visiting Srinagar from Thursday is the first by New Delhi-based diplomats since BJP led government revoked the special status of Kashmir and imposed a harsh crackdown in August 2019.
According to NDTV, European diplomats said they didn’t want a “guided tour” and “would visit later and meet the people they want to meet”.
Quoting diplomatic sources, The Hindu reported that diplomats from EU had decided not to accept the invitation and asked for “more freedom to travel and meet people unescorted”.
Consequently, the Indian government has decided to organise a separate visit for the European envoys at a later date, the report added. The report says Australia, Afghanistan and the Gulf countries were also invited for the visit but declined due to “other commitments”.
“While many ambassadors are still on winter vacations and have not returned to Delhi, some are dealing with the fallout of US-Iran tensions on the region,” the report said, quoting diplomats.
“When asked, government sources denied any suggestion that EU envoys had pulled out due to restrictions in the programme, saying the government was unable to accommodate all 28 countries on this trip,” The Hindu said.
In October of last year, a group of European Parliament members had visited Kashmir. Nearly 30 EU MPs, drawn mainly from extreme right-wing parties, were the first international delegation to visit strife torn Kashmir since a security clampdown was imposed on August 5 last year. While the Indian government projected the visit as a sign of easing restrictions, the European parliament and European Union hierarchy were not involved, raising some diplomatic doubts.
The lockdown in Kashmir has crossed 150 days with the security and communication clampdown now in its fifth month.
With international pressure mounting to restore freedoms, Indian authorities claim they have ‘eased’ some restrictions, such as lifting roadblocks and restoring landlines and some mobile phone services. The scenario for 12.5 million Kashmiris, however, is far from normal.