15 foreign envoys visit Kashmir, government explains agenda
As 15 envoys from different countries are visiting Jammu and Kashmir, the government briefed media about the objective of this trip. Raveesh Kumar, the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said on Thursday that the envoys were taken there to reveal the steps taken by the government to restore normalcy. He said the first stop of envoys was a meeting with security officials.
Background: Why is Kashmir "not normal"?
Kashmir's situation changed in August last year when BJP-led Centre passed a Bill revoking Article 370, that awarded special status to the area. Anticipating any violent fallout, the government put Kashmir under a heavy blanket of security, suspended modes of communication, and detained politicians who could spark tensions. All these steps raised concerns about human rights but the Centre claimed the situation was improving.
Envoys from different nations to assess on-ground situation
This is the second time foreign politicians are being taken to the volatile area. In October, 23 Members of the European Parliament were given the same treatment, but MEA wasn't involved with it. However, this time, the government planned the excursion. Envoys from US, South Korea, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Maldives, Morocco, Fiji, Norway, Philippines, Argentina, Peru, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, and Guyana, are part of the team.
On EU skipping visit, Kumar said everyone wasn't invited
However, the team doesn't include representatives of the European Union, as some of them wanted more access and wished to meet people of their own choice. But Kumar virtually dismissed these allegations by saying, "We wanted this group to be of manageable size and make it broad-based representing different geographical regions." He said not everyone was extended an invitation.
They wanted to visit in a group: Kumar
Apart from locals, envoys to meet politicians too
Besides meeting locals and officials to get a sense of the situation, the envoys will meet a delegation of politicians led by former minister Altaf Bukhari. A former member of PDP, Bukhari is among the handful of politicians who are not under detention. "It will be a free and frank discussion. Whatever is on the ground we will discuss," he said.
NC and Congress weren't happy with envoys' visit
While Centre is hoping this visit takes away some of the criticism on how it dealt with Kashmir, opposition parties are obviously unimpressed. Calling it a staged visit, just like the first one, National Conference said the envoys would only meet handpicked individuals. Meanwhile, Congress' Jairam Ramesh demanded "unfettered access to J&K to all politicians" and said government shouldn't spend time on guided tours.