Foreign Envoys in Kashmir

The government once again brought New Delhi-based foreign diplomats on a visit to Kashmir. This time it was a batch of 25 foreign envoys who were in J&K government-facilitated trip to  get a first-hand assessment of the situation in the state turned union territory.

This is second time in the last one month that the centre has brought diplomats to the region. The envoys were briefed about the security situation at Badami Bagh Cantonment here. The delegation later flew to Jammu for further engagements. From initial reports, several envoys have largely attested to the normalcy prevailing in the UT. However, some envoys like German Ambassador Walter Lindner and Ambassador of Denmark to India Freddy Svane have sought interaction with common people before they react.

Last year also, the government had organised a similar tour for far-right members of the European Parliament. All such visits have run into their share of controversies. The move of bringing diplomats has come under criticism for trying to portray normalcy in Kashmir where the internet was suspended for six months and has now only just been eased somewhat with the restoration of 2G mobile connectivity for common masses and broadband for a range of businesses.

But Kashmir’s top political leadership, including three former chief ministers- Dr Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti – are still in detention. In fact, the government recently slapped Omar and Mehbooba and several other senior leaders with Public Safety Act. This will perpetuate their detention for another three months, if not more.

The government has been criticized for seeking approval for the normalcy in Kashmir from foreign countries, when it considers Kashmir an internal issue. And ironically while foreign diplomats are brought to Kashmir time and again, the leaders from the opposition parties are not allowed to visit.

The BJP has remained unfazed by such criticisms and defended the visit as a helpful effort to demonstrate to the world that Kashmir was normal following the revocation of Article 370 on August 5. The BJP has highlighted the absence of protests in Kashmir as a sign of normalcy in the UT.

The fact, however, remains that while the situation in Kashmir has remained largely calm, government hasn’t been commensurate with relaxation of restrictions. High-speed internet continues to be shut which is causing immense hardships to people and has virtually wrecked the parts of economy.  So, the situation can only be called normal if the government also keeps its side of the bargain by easing curbs in response to normalcy on the ground.

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