As envoys of over 15 foreign countries arrived in Srinagar on a two-day visit, the National Conference (NC) described the arrival as a “guided tour” with the aim to show that “normalcy has been largely restored when three former Chief Ministers continue to remain under detention since August 5.”
The latest visit for the foreign delegates has been facilitated and organised by the Centre. Those invited by the ministry of external affairs include envoys from the United States, Norway, South Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, Maldives, Morocco, Argentina, Niger, Nigeria, Guyana, Fiji, and Bangladesh. The European Union rejected the invite.
MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar briefing the media in New Delhi said, the purpose behind the visit was to ensure that the delegates got a “sense of the threat posed by terrorism (in Kashmir).”
“They interacted with (Kashmir’s) civil society members from all walks of life. The group also interacted with local media and several political leaders. Efforts are being made by the government of India to normalise the situation (in Kashmir) and how things have progressed and how normalcy has been restored to some extent,” he said, adding that in future more such visits would be organised by India after assessing the ground situation and assurances from the local administration in the newly-created Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
Bukhari leads the possible ‘Third Front’
The envoys after arriving met some political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir led by Altaf Bukhari, a former cabinet minister in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-led coalition government from March 2015 to June 2018.
Bukhari told journalists that there was no harm in meeting the foreign envoys. “We met people (foreign envoys) with the objective to apprise about the present situation of Kashmir. Our interaction is in no way going to delay the release of our political prisoners. Our interaction has no connection whatsoever with my colleagues who are behind the bars,” he said.
Bukhari said that all political prisoners, including former chief ministers, should be released forthwith.
Separately, in a memorandum submitted to J&K’s Lieutenant Governor Girish Chander Murmu by Altaf Bukhari and other possible leaders of the ‘Third Front’ it was demanded that all political leaders should be released.
Meanwhile, other leaders who met the visiting foreign delegation include PDP’s Rafi Mir, Dilawar Mir, Zaffar Iqbal Manhas, Ch Qamar Hussain, Noor Mohammad Sheikh, former PDP MLAs Abdul Rahim Rather, Abdul Majeed Padder and Javed Beg, Ghulam Hassan Mir of Democratic Party Nationalist (DPN), and Shoaib Lone of Congress.
PDP expels party members
Meanwhile, the PDP expelled all the party leaders who met the delegation. “In view of the developments post August 5 and the unilateral move of the GOI which has violated the will (of the people) and hurt the sentiments of people, it has come to the attention of the party that certain party leaders have been part of the parleys which go against the interests of the state, official position and the core beliefs of the party. (The) party’s disciplinary committee has thus recommended the expulsion of all the below mentioned leaders from the basic membership of the party,” the PDP said in a statement.
Earlier, the Jammu and Kashmir Police and Army escorted the delegates’ fleet from the Srinagar Airport. They were briefed by the Indian Army at Srinagar’s sensitive 15 Corps at Badami Bagh Cantonment. The Army briefed the delegates about the “threat posed by Pakistan, infiltration, and the efforts that are being made to restore normalcy in Kashmir.”
Local media persons who met the delegation included TV commentator Majid Hyderi, Saleem Pandit (Times of India), Fayaz Ahmad Kaloo (Editor, Greater Kashmir), Bashir Manzar (Editor, Kashmir Image), Ayaz Hafiz (Editor, Rising Kashmir), Farooq Ahmad Wani (Editor, Brighter Kashmir) and Rasheed Rahil (Editor, Asian Mail).
Speaking the The Federal, Hyderi said, “I apprised the visiting delegation about the ground realities of Kashmir. They listened to me patiently and were all ears.”
According to a senior journalist who met the delegation at Hotel Lalit Grand the envoys enquired about the difficulties faced by the media in the absence of internet. During the interaction some delegates also asked questions about the role played by Pakistan in Kashmir, the fallout post abrogation Articles 370 and 35A and how normalcy could be restored in Kashmir.
Senior journalist Saleem Pandit told The Federal, “I told the delegates that internet services should be restored for the media fraternity, but they were interested in the larger picture.”
A senior editor told the visiting delegates that the statehood should be restored to J&K and that the guarantees with regard to ownership of land, domicile, property and right to job reservations should also be guaranteed to the native Kashmiris. Besides this, Faiz Dijoo who runs an NGO by the name Sunrise Kashmir also met the foreign envoys.
NC calls visit a ‘guided tour’
Meanwhile, the National Conference (NC) expressed disappointment over the manner in which foreign envoys have been brought to the Valley “to endorse the Centre’s claims of normalcy.”
“In a repeat of the visit of the European Members of Parliament (in October, 2019), the envoys have been brought here on a guided tour, where access has been severely limited to those handpicked individuals who will toe the government line. The National Conference wishes to ask these envoys that if the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is ‘normal’, then why are scores of people, including three former Chief Ministers, under detention for almost 160 days and why have the people of Jammu and Kashmir been denied access to the internet for over five months?” said NC spokesperson.
The NC further said that “while the rest of India is told that peaceful dissent is the cornerstone of democracy, this right does not seem to extend to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Are the people of J&K expected to live without the fundamental rights?”
The delegation will spend one day in Jammu tomorrow (January 10).