Critics denounce trip as a ‘guided tour’ and an attempt by the BJP government to project a ‘sense of normalcy’.
Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – A delegation of foreign envoys, including from African, European and Latin American countries, began their two-day tour of Indian-administered Kashmir amid an increased blanket of security and a spontaneous shutdown in some parts of the region.
Soon after their arrival on Wednesday in Srinagar, the region’s main city, the envoys were driven to a college in central Kashmir’s Budgam where they met a select number of people, including the recently elected local body representatives.
After visiting the college in Budgam’s Magam town, where residents observed a shutdown, the envoys visited the historic marble mosque on the banks of Srinagar’s picturesque lake.
An official told Al Jazeera that the envoys are from Chile, Brazil, Cuba, Bolivia, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Italy, Bangladesh, Malawi, Eritrea, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal, Malaysia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and the European Union.
This is the third visit by foreign envoys to the region since the August 2019 abrogation of Kashmir’s limited autonomy by New Delhi, implemented with a crippling lockdown and communication blackout that lasted several months.
Mehbooba Mufti, a former chief minister of the region and president of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), termed the visit “event management by the BJP government”.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Mufti told Al Jazeera. “It is a guided tour for which they [Indian government] selected people for the meetings. It’s not like whoever wants to talk can go.”
Mufti said the purpose of the visit appeared “to show the sense of normalcy in Kashmir”.
“We are not being allowed to meet families of victims of human rights violations. This is artificial and a facade.”
A team of 23 Members of the European Parliament, some of them from far-right parties, visited Kashmir in October 2019, three months after the abrogation of Article 370.
In February last year, the government took a group of 15 foreign envoys to Srinagar for a two-day visit.
On Wednesday, shops and business establishments remained shut in Srinagar and scores of Indian armed personnel manned the main roads and highways.
The authorities also removed five security bunkers from the main roads in the city, which locals criticised saying it was done to give “a false sense of normalcy to the visiting envoys”.
Officials said it was done to smoothen the traffic movement on the busy roads.
“It is to create a fake reality. People have been stripped of dignity, economic prosperity and everything they had for the last three years,” a shopkeeper, requesting anonymity, in Srinagar told Al Jazeera.
“People have been completely silenced.”
Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a political analyst in Kashmir, told Al Jazeera that the Indian government had been trying to “market” the abrogation of Article 370.
“They have been trying to market it internationally without any success. The visit of the envoys is part of the same exercise. There is a paradox in it. On one side the abrogation is their internal matter and on the other side they are bringing foreign envoys.”
Noor Ahmad Baba, a political scientist in the region, echoed the views, adding that “the visit does not mean much for the Kashmiris”.
“It is relevant only for the government because there have been many doubts about the situation in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370. It is more a PR exercise because there has been a critical view globally over the decisions and the policies of the Indian government.”
The envoys are flying to the southern city of Jammu on Thursday where they are scheduled to meet various delegations, political representatives and security officials.