Srinagar: A group of envoys, including those from several Europe Union countries and a few OIC member states, began a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday. They are here, according to government officials, to have a first-hand account of the situation, especially after the recently-concluded local body elections.
Soon after landing at Srinagar Airport, the delegation was accorded a traditional welcome with a group of girls singing traditional Kashmiri songs, including Wanwun amid showering of flower petals.
The envoys, which has representation from six OIC countries Malaysia, Bangladesh, Senegal Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan -- were taken to Magam in central Kashmir amid heightened security arrangements in the city and elsewhere in the Valley, officials said here.
Other envoys included in this delegation are from Brazil, Italy, Finland, Cuba, Chile, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Ireland, Estonia, Bolivia, Malawi, Eritrea and Ivory Coast.
This is the third delegation that has arrived in Jammu and Kashmir since the government abrogated the erstwhile state's special status on August 5, 2019 and bifurcated it into two union territories by carving out Ladakh.
In Magam, the envoys went to a college and were received in a traditional way and after the customary rituals by the administration, they interacted with a group of locals.
"It was a free-flowing exchange of ideas by the delegation with the locals", the officials said.
Chairperson of DDC Budgam Nazir Ahmad, who interacted with the envoys, told reporters that he raised the need for the government to provide basic amenities like food, clothing shelter, electricity and good roads.
"Budgam is a downtrodden district which needs development. Our discussion was centered around it," Ahmad added.
Later, the delegation moved to Srinagar’s Lalit-Grand Palace for lunch.
The delegation was taken to Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC) where they interacted with the Srinagar Mayor Junaid Mattu, chairpersons of just-formed District Development Councils, Block Development Councils and Municipal Councils from all parties.
The delegation was apprised of the government's initiative of ensuring democracy at grass-root level and strengthening of panchayats in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir by giving them financial powers.
The delegation later interacted with a select group of media persons.
A significant thing about the delegation was the inclusion of OIC member states so that they could easily counter the propaganda of Pakistan which has been creating a false narrative about the situation in the union territory, the officials said.
The report of the OIC Secretary General on its activities submitted to the 47th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers referred to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and said, "The decision of the Indian government on 5 August 2019 towards changing the demographic and geographic composition of the territory, and the continuous blockade and restrictions together with human rights abuses, had awakened renewed efforts of the international community towards a resolution of the conflict."
However, India, without naming Pakistan, had said that it was "regrettable that OIC continues to allow itself to be used by a certain country, which has an abominable record on religious tolerance, radicalism and persecution of minorities, to indulge in anti-India propaganda."
It may be mentioned here that curbs on the Internet were removed earlier this month and the speed was enhanced from existing 2G to 4G.
Later in the day, the delegation members also visited the revered Hazratbal shrine on the banks of Dal Lake and interacted with artists including Saima Shafi who is trying to revive pottery in the region, social activist Renzu Shah and Shahnawaz, who does calligraphy on Pashmina carpets.
Dr Shaista Ahmed -- a musician, Nighat -- a poet, and writers Nelofar Nehvi, Nighat Nazar and Nusrat Iqbal were also present at the function which was to enlighten the foreign dignitaries about the rich cultural heritage of Kashmir.
Some local political leaders and officials from the handicrafts and tourism departments were also seen interacting with the envoys at the gathering.
Emmanuel Lenain, Ambassador from France, and Cuban Ambassador Oscar J Martinez Cordoves showed keen interest in handicrafts especially pottery.
Interacting with Shafi, a junior engineer with the Public Works Department who is popularly known as 'Kral Kroor' or potter girl, the two ambassadors expressed surprise that women folk in the Kashmir valley were not involved in pottery.
"If women can make a house, they can mould the clay in whichever form they want," said Shafi, adding that both the envoys told her that in their countries it was females who were predominantly involved in this trade.
The Cuban ambassador informed that women were mainly involved in the arts such as painting and pottery. "I told him that it will take some time for Kashmir to ensure such equality in society," she said.
The Spanish representative showed some keen interest in embroidery and Pashmina besides the tourism infrastructure.
The delegation is scheduled to visit Jammu on Thursday where they are likely to meet the officials of the Union territory and call on Lt Governor Manoj Sinha.
In a related development, parts of Srinagar observed a spontaneous shutdown on the arrival of the envoys' delegation to Kashmir. Shops in Lal Chowk and surrounding areas of the city remained shut as authorities deployed extra security personnel to ensure that the visit of the envoys passes off without any incident.
Former chief minister and president of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Mehbooba Mufti, termed the visit “event management by the BJP government”.
Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the visit of the envoys was a curated tour for misleading the world.
"A curated tour of foreign dignitaries to showcase 'normalcy' in the valley to the outside world is misleading. People's spontaneous strike, the only means of protest left to them, speaks volumes to the world of what people feel and want," the amalgam said in a statement.
Last year, envoys from 17 nations, including the United States, had visited Jammu and Kashmir and the team also comprised ambassadors from Vietnam, South Korea, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Niger, Nigeria, Morocco, Guyana, Argentina, Philippines, Norway, Maldives, Fiji, Togo, Bangladesh and Peru.
Immediately three months after the Centre withdrew special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated it into two union territories, a delegation of 23 EU MPs was taken on a two-day visit to assess the situation in the Union Territory by the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, a Delhi-based think tank. (With inputs from PTI)
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