New Delhi: The government Thursday said the objective of taking envoys of 15 countries to Kashmir was to help them see the efforts to bring back normalcy in the Valley after abrogation of Article 370 and rejected criticism that the visit is like a guided tour.
The envoys from 15 nations including from the US began a two-day government-facilitated trip to Jammu and Kashmir Thursday. The Congress accused the government of ‘adopting double standards’ by organising ‘guided tours’ to Jammu and Kashmir for foreign envoys, but not allowing Indian politicians to visit the Union territories.
Besides the US, the group comprised envoys from South Korea, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Fiji, Maldives, Norway, Philippines, Morocco, Argentina, Peru, Niger, Nigeria, Guyana and Togo, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.
“The objective of the visit is for the envoys to see the efforts being made by the government to bring the situation to normal and see first-hand the impact of series of steps taken by the local administration to normalise the situation in recent weeks,” he said.
Asked why the envoys from the countries of the European Union declined to be part of the group, Kumar said they wanted to visit Jammu and Kashmir in a group, but the government did not extend invite to all.
“We wanted the group to be of manageable size. There was a constraint of numbers. We wanted to have broad-based representation covering various geographical regions…On many issues they (European countries) take group position. Invitation wasn’t sent to all (EU) member countries,” he said.
Diplomatic sources said envoys from several European countries conveyed to the government that they cannot go at such a notice and sought to visit Kashmir without any restrictions.
Kumar said the government would look at the possibility of taking more envoys to Jammu and Kashmir depending on the situation there.
“This is the beginning. From the experience we gain from this visit and and if there is a progressive normalisation of the situation, we can have more such programmes,” he said.
The MEA spokesperson also rejected criticism that the visit is a ‘guided tour’.
The envoys visited Srinagar Thursday and they will be in Jammu Friday.
Official sources said the envoys drove through the city of Srinagar and could get a feel of the traffic and open shops.
At the briefing, Kumar said the programme for the trip was drawn up keeping in mind the threat posed by terrorism and taking adequate precautions for security.
“Since their arrival today morning, the group had a series of meetings. The first meeting was with the security officials to understand the challenges of maintain security, including threat of terrorism in the union territory,” he said.
“This was followed by an interaction with civil society from all walks of life and from all over J and K. The group also interacted with the local media as well as a group of political leaders,” Kumar added.
Official sources said during the meeting with political leaders, there were some questions about abrogation of provisions of articles 370 and 35 A and release of political detainees, adding the general sense was to move on and build a peaceful future for Jammu and Kashmir.
The military briefing focused on cross-border terrorism and the envoys were shown videos of infiltration from across the border, the sources said.
The envoys had informal chat with nearly 100 youths from across Jammu and Kashmir in small private groups besides an interaction with journalists where the media persons asked for lifting of internet restrictions, the sources added.
According to Kumar, the visit was organised following requests from some envoys based in Delhi.
“Our consistent position has been that any visit to the Union Territory of J and K by foreign dignitaries will be based on assessment by local administration on the prevailing security situation,” he said.
Asked about political leaders who met the group, he said the visit by the envoys to Kashmir is not yet over.