A delegation of at least 20 diplomats from different countries is scheduled to visit Jammu and Kashmir this week on the invitation of the Union Ministry of External Affairs in coordination with the union territory government. This will be the fourth diplomatic troupe visiting Jammu and Kashmir after the erstwhile State was divided into the two UTs of J&K and Ladakh and its special constitutional status was withdrawn through a Parliamentary legislation and Presidential order on 5 August 2019.
While the first delegation of the Members of the European Parliament experienced a passage to the valley in October 2019, a group of 16 envoys visited J&K in January 2020. It was followed by another delegation of 25 foreign diplomats, including the ambassador of the United States of America, in February 2020. Exactly a year after, the fourth such troupe is visiting on 17th and 18th February to see the ground realities in the midst of India’s bad press overseas.
According to some official sources, some of the diplomats would be from the P-5, the European Union countries, the African Union countries and also the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries.
India has been at the receiving end of a concerted campaign through the international media over its actions and interventions in Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019 and thereafter. Most of the newspapers and television channels from Europe to America have been subjectively critical of the Indian actions, claiming that “a repressive regime” had aggressively imposed a lockdown, curtailed freedoms, and violated human rights by way of detaining “thousands” of the mainstream opposition as well as the separatist leaders and activists.
Influencing the political opinions, the foreign media with support from a section of the Indian Leftist media, has been extensively reporting and editorialising the detention of the journalist Asif Sultan, registration of criminal cases against some mediapersons and curtailment of the government’s paid advertisements ‘selectively’ to some Srinagar-based dailies.
Claiming that not a single journalist had been arrested or jailed in Jammu and Kashmir, the Government of India has asserted that Asif Sultan had been arrested in a terrorism- elated matter after he was found “involved in providing shelter to some terrorists at his home”.
He was arrested after some militants escaped during an operation by the security forces, killing a Police constable in the Batmaloo neighbourhood in Srinagar. As regards the registration of five First Information Reports (FIRs) against an equal number of the journalists, the government has alleged that they had ‘violated the law’.
All the 100-odd mainstream leaders and activists detained in and after August 2019 have been released from time to time in the last one year.
Some of them on different occasions have alleged that they had been confined to their homes and prevented from visiting certain places. Of them, at least three have been rearrested for questioning in a criminal matter while the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) youth leader Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra has been arrested allegedly for his involvement in two criminal cases.
On the political front, the Government wants to showcase the elections for the Block Development Councils (BDCs) and the District Development Councils (DDCs), all after abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A in August 2019, and for the first time in Jammu and Kashmir. The elections for DDCs in all the 20 districts have been held with a high voter turnout in November-December 2020. All the political parties, including Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP, who have been struggling for restoration of Article 370, have participated in the DDC elections and hailed the same as a clean democratic exercise.
While all the higher education institutions have opened in the valley after a year-long Covid-19 recess, all the elementary and high schools are scheduled to open on 1 March 2021. Early this month, the authorities have also restored the high-speed 4G internet services across Jammu and Kashmir—something widely appreciated by the world including the USA Government.
On the counterterrorism front, the Government has continued a crackdown and neutralised around 300 armed militants. The authorities have captured about 20 militants alive during the encounters. However, the Government has been facing allegations of ‘fake encounter’ with regard to its claim of the death of three ‘militant associates’ at Lawaypora. Previously, the claim of the killing of ‘three militants’ has been proved as fake and all the three youths killed at Amshipora Shopian have turned out to be innocent and uninvolved civilians.
However, this kind of a fake encounter has been reported in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time after a similar incident had been reported in Kupwara in May 2010.
Authoritative sources say that the foreign diplomats would receive a detailed briefing on the counterinsurgency and the law and order front at headquarters of 15 Corps at Badami Bagh in Srinagar. They are also scheduled to interact with senior and middle-ranking Police and civil officers, both in Srinagar and Jammu.
The diplomats would be meeting with around 30 political and civil society delegations, including a number of the elected members and chairpersons of the Panchayati Raj Institutions, BDCs, DDCs and the Urban Local Bodies. A group of select mediapersons is also being invited for an interaction with the foreign diplomats. Sources in the BJP, the Congress party and Apni Party confirmed their meetings with the diplomats in the evening on Wednesday and the forenoon on Thursday. However, it was not immediately clear whether any meeting had been fixed with the NC and the PDP leaders.
Members of the delegation are likely to conduct a brief visit to Baramulla and Gulmarg besides enjoying a Shikara ride on the world-famous Dal Lake in Srinagar.