Srinagar/New Delhi, India – Delhi-based foreign diplomats are visiting Indian-administered Kashmir on the invitation of the Indian government, with Kashmiris and opposition leaders decrying it as a “guided tour” designed by New Delhi to show normalcy in the Muslim-majority region.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had faced criticism last October when it organised a similar tour for far-right members of the European Parliament.
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The two-day trip, which begins on Thursday, comprises more than a dozen envoys, including from the United States. They are expected to assess the situation in the disputed Himalayan region, which was stripped of its special status by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government on August 5.
Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah, a close aide of Modi, announced the abrogation of Article 370 of the constitution, which granted autonomy to Kashmir, saying it was necessary to bring development to the region that has seen armed rebellion for decades.
The delegation is expected to meet locals, civil society groups, journalists, local body heads and business heads, among others.
The Modi government’s decision has yet again come under criticism for trying to portray normalcy in Kashmir where the internet remains suspended for more than five months and Kashmir’s top political leadership, including three former chief ministers, still remain in detention.
These people come here … they eat good food, stay in luxury hotels … They hardly question India on its oppression in Kashmir.
Rameez Ahmad Mir, a Kashmiri resident
Interestingly, local news reports suggest that diplomats from Australia and several Gulf nations backed out of the visit due to “scheduling” reasons.
In addition, diplomats from European Union countries too have dropped out of the visit with reports suggesting they wanted to reach out to their contacts on the ground and visit areas which have not been included in the trip organised by the Indian government in coordination with the Ministry of External Affairs, Home Affairs and Defence.
The latest trip is part of the government’s diplomatic outreach programme after it came under criticism for not allowing envoys from the US, Germany and the United Kingdom to visit Kashmir.
Sidiq Wahid, a Kashmir-based political analyst and academician, told Al Jazeera that “such delegations have no credibility”.
This is the second visit of foreign delegations to Kashmir since the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5 [Farooq Khan/EPA]
“The government in Delhi is trying to seek legitimacy for itself. And from a Kashmir point of view, there is so little credibility for such delegations. Why do you need delegations? Why can’t just people come freely? The expectations of Kashmiris is very low. We [Kashmiris] continue to struggle,” he said.
Meanwhile, India’s opposition parties are criticising the government for not taking its own citizens, including top political parties, to visit Kashmir and hold dialogue with the people of the region.
“Essentially, the government wants to demonstrate that everything is normal in Kashmir, which is far from reality,” said Congress leader Manish Tewari.
The government in Delhi is trying to seek legitimacy for itself. And from a Kashmir point of view, there is so little credibility for such delegations.
Sidiq Wahid, Kashmiri analyst
He went on to add: “Post-abrogation of Article 370, the government assumed that Kashmiris would embrace it as a popular move and if that is the case, why is internet suspended for more than five months? It’s paradoxical that the government can allow right-wing EU members to visit Kashmir but won’t allow Indian politicians to visit the region.
“This visit is a farcical exercise aimed at distorting reality. The situation needs a political outreach and for the people of Kashmir need to be taken on board,” the senior Congress leader said.
Rights violations in Kashmir
Sushobha Barve of Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation said there is ambiguity on who is visiting and who is not.
This visit is a farcical exercise aimed at distorting reality.
Manish Tiwari, Congress leader
“My understanding is that they want to tell the world that everything is all right in Kashmir. I also think that during a Congressional hearing in the US, questions were raised about human rights violations in Kashmir,” Barve told Al Jazeera.