The visit of the delegation will be the third official visit by foreign diplomats of to J&K since the government’s decision to amend Article 370.
A week after the government restored 4G internet connectivity to Jammu and Kashmir, it is preparing to take a group of diplomats to visit Srinagar and Jammu in an effort to “showcase” the situation in the Union Territory, officials confirmed to The Hindu. According to the sources, the visit being planned in the next few weeks will include about 20 envoys and diplomats from different countries including the European Union, who have been invited by the Ministry of External Affairs. A final decision on the visit and composition of the delegation is still awaited.
The visit of the delegation will be the third official visit by foreign diplomats of to J&K since the government’s decision to amend Article 370 and divide the State into two Union territories (Jammu-Kashmir and Ladakh) on August 5, 2019. A delegation of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) had also visited the UT in October 2019, but the visit had run into controversies over its sponsorship and had been described by the government as a “personal” visit.
During the two-day visit which is still in the planning stages, sources said the foreign delegation is expected to meet government officials, newly-elected local DDC representatives, business chambers and members of civil society. An official said that the Jammu Kashmir Administration will also make a presentation on the recently held District Development Council (DDC) polls as a “major opening of political space” in J&K as well as the restoration of high speed internet, which was welcomed by the new U.S. Biden administration.
It is still unclear whether the group would meet former Chief Ministers Mehbooba Mufti, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah. Previous delegations were able to meet only members of the J&K Apni Party, as most of the other political leadership including all former CMs were in detention at the time.
The first two delegations were taken by the government in January and February 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic, and had included the Ambassadors of the United States, Germany, Norway and the European Union Ambassador to India, as well as those from countries in South America, South East Asia and Africa. The timing of the upcoming delegation will be important as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend the EU-India summit in Portugal on May 8, and the group’s assessment of the situation on the ground is expected be included in the discussions, it is learnt.
Over the past 18 months, the European Union has issued a number of statements expressing concern over the situation in Jammu-Kashmir, especially on the issue of arrests of opposition leaders, the restrictions on movement for citizens, and the internet bans that were in place since the abrogation of Article 370. While many of those measures have since been lifted, the restrictions on high-speed internet had been kept in place for 550 days before the government restored it.
In November 2020, after a video conference meeting with Pakistani officials and European Union High Representative Josep Borrell, an EU statement said that it is “following the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir closely. [Mr. Borrell] underlined the need for restraint, de-escalation of tensions and resolution of the dispute through dialogue and constructive political and diplomatic engagement,” it added.