Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
JAMMU: Amid shutdown in parts of Srinagar and Magam and a suspected terrorist attack on a dhaba owner’s son in the high security zone of Sonwar, a delegation of 22 foreign diplomats on Wednesday met over 30 delegations under tight security arrangements in the Kashmir valley.The envoys’ delegation, which arrived in the valley on a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, toured several areas in Central Kashmir and interacted with political activists, journalists, traders and members of the civil society. This is the fourth such delegation to take the first-hand feel of the ground situation and political developments after the erstwhile State was split into the union territories of J&K and Ladakh and its special constitutional status was withdrawn in August 2019.There was a spontaneous shutdown in Lalchowk and some downtown neighbourhoods but no untoward incident until the evening when a suspected terrorist fired on a popular vegetarian dhaba owner’s son. Aakash Mehra (22), son of Ramesh Kumar Mehra, sustained a pistol shot injury in his chest. He was rushed to SMHS Hospital where he was under treatment late on Wednesday night.A hand-written note purportedly from ‘Muslim Janbaz Force’ in the social media claimed responsibility of the attack but its veracity could not be ascertained immediately.The diplomats conducting a tour of the union territory on an invitation from the Union Ministry of External Affairs reached Srinagar by a chartered flight. After meeting over 30 delegations in Srinagar and Budgam and staying there for a night, the delegation would be meeting some political parties, civil society groups, traders and senior government functionaries, including Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, in the summer capital of Jammu on Thursday.Senior envoys of the 22 countries in the delegation include diplomats from Brazil, Cuba, Estonia, Finland, Tajikistan, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, European Union, Bangladesh, Malawi, Eretria, Cote d’ivoire, Ghana, Senegal, Sweden, Italy, Malaysia, Bolivia, Belgium and Kyrgyzstan.Three of such delegations had visited Jammu and Kashmir in October 2019, January 2020 and February 2020 on the invitation of the Union Ministry of External Affairs in coordination with the UT government.Main objective of these organised visits, according to the government officials, is to “showcase peace and development achieved after abrogation of Article 370” to the world. Officials complain that sections of the international media, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Aljazeera TV and the BBC, have damaged India’s democratic image with their “subjective reporting” in and after August 2019.“They are still reporting that Kashmir is reeling under lockdown, nobody is moving out and politics has been crippled. According to them, the Kashmiris have been alienated with the actions of August 2019 and their leaders and representatives are languishing in jails. We have decided to let the world diplomats see the ground realities for themselves. We are simply taking care of their security”, said a senior official.After their arrival in Srinagar, the diplomats drove straight to the Government Degree College at Magam, on Srinagar-Gulmarg road, where groups of the girl students received them while showering flower petals and singing welcome songs. They had an extensive interaction with chairpersons and members of the Panchayati Raj Institutions, Block Development Councils (BDCs) and the District Development Council.Even as the markets closed in the town, Chairperson of DDC Budgam, Nazir Ahmad Khan, explained to the diplomats how the government had associated common people with the democratic exercises and how the democracy at the grass-root level was benefiting the people after August 2019.At a similar session in Srinagar, the diplomats were briefed on the political situation, development and economy by a number of the delegations from Panchayats, BDCs, DDC Srinagar and Srinagar Municipal Corporation. Mayor of Srinagar, Junaid Azim Mattu, explained how the democratic institutions were functioning at the grass-root level after the Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) Bill was passed by the Parliament in August 2019.Over a dozen delegates of the local traders and businessmen, particularly those associated with the tourism and hospitality industry, also met the foreign diplomats. A select group of Srinagar-based journalists also briefed the diplomats about the situation developing after August 2019. Sources said that some BJP and Apni Party leaders were also meeting the delegation.One of the main features of the diplomats’ itinerary was a visit to J&K’s most revered Muslim shrine of Hazratbal in the evening.Like on almost all occasions after 9/11, the foreign diplomats decided against meeting any of the separatist politicians. Until the evening on Wednesday, it was not clear if a meeting was scheduled with the traditional ruling parties like the National Conference (NC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or the Congress.Significantly both, NC and PDP remained tight-lipped about the diplomats’ visit and meetings with select groups. None of the three former Chief Ministers-Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti-chose to issue a statement or a tweet till late on Wednesday night. While Omar was seen enjoying skiing in Gulmarg, Mehbooba was on a two-day tour of Kupwara district. Both have reportedly returned to home.Former Union Minister and senior Congress leader, Saifuddin Soz, was the only mainstream politician who issued a press release and dismissed the diplomats’ visit as State-sponsored and ‘nothing but sight-seeing”.
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