European envoys have refused the offer of a guided two-day visit to India-held Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K), saying they want greater “freedom” to meet local residents without Indian authorities accompanying them.
According to diplomatic sources, the envoys from European countries said they did not want a guided tour of Kashmir, rather they wanted to meet people freely of their own choosing.
Some of the envoys said they were also keen to meet the three former chief ministers, Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, who had been in detention since the New Delhi government illegally and unconstitutionally changed the disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 last year.
According to foreign news agency, envoys from 15 countries including the United States arrived in Indian-held Kashmir, the first visit by New Delhi-based diplomats since the government stripped the region of its semi-autonomous status and began a harsh crackdown five months ago.
The diplomats were driven by Indian authorities in a motorcade amid tight security from the airport to the military headquarters in Srinagar, where they were briefed on the security situation, an army officer said. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
They also held discussions with civil society members and some Kashmiri politicians, said Raveesh Kumar, India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesman.
Last October, 27 mostly far-right European M.P.s had visited India-held Kashmir on Delhi’s invitation to get a personal update on the situation in the valley; that visit followed the Indian government denying entry to U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, who had questioned what Delhi had to hide if it did not want people witnessing the situation “with their own eyes.”
Foreign officials aren’t the only ones who have been denied unaccompanied tours of the restive region. Shortly after Delhi scrapped Kashmir’s special autonomy, opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had attempted to visit the area but was turned back from Srinagar airport due to “security” concerns.
The lockdown in India-held Kashmir is nearing 160 days, with most means of communication still heavily restricted or banned outright.