NEW DELHI: Businesses in Srinagar, the main city of Indian-administered Kashmir, were closed on Thursday as part of protests at a government-sponsored trip for foreign envoys to the turbulent region.
The visit, which started on Wednesday, is the third trip by a group of foreign diplomats stationed in India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status in August 2019, enforcing the change with a military crackdown, mass detentions of political leaders and activists, and a communications blackout.
Diplomats of 24 countries, including France, Brazil, Italy, Finland, Cuba, Chile, Portugal and members of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) such as Malaysia, Bangladesh, Senegal and Tajikistan, have joined this week’s Kashmir trip, which the region’s pro-freedom alliance group, the Hurriyat Conference, on Wednesday described as “a curated tour of foreign dignitaries to showcase normalcy.”
Critics of the envoys’ visit say that it “rubs salt into the wounds” of Kashmiris.
“New Delhi wants to make the international community happy at the cost of the pain of the local people,” Srinagar-based business owner Aijaz Ahmad Ahmad told Arab News.
“Believe me, nothing comes out of such a trip unless you feel the pain of common people,” he said.
While India’s foreign ministry declined to comment on the trip, Modi’s party representatives in Kashmir say it shows that things are improving in Kashmir under New Delhi’s rule.
“The foreign delegation’s visit to Kashmir is a sign that the situation is getting better in the area,” Dr. Hina Bhat, a Kashmir-based leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), told Arab News on Thursday.
Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad welcomed the visit, but expressed doubts about what it was meant to achieve “if they don’t meet real stakeholders.”
“They should have met real stakeholders, business leaders and members of the civil society. That would have brought more authenticity to the trip,” he said.
However, diplomats’ involvement in the trip, especially those from EU countries, has angered rights activists.
“Are the EU countries supposed to stand for democracy or not? What they are up to?” asked Radha Kumar, co-chair of the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir.
“It shows terrible bankruptcy in these embassies if they go on a paid trip to the conflict area where you know voices are being silenced,” she told Arab News.
“The Indian government’s intention is clear — it wants to make a big thing of showing that foreign countries support its stand on Kashmir.”
Days before the envoys’ visit, several security bunkers in Srinagar and nearby areas were removed in what activists such as Danish Lone, of the Jammu and Kashmir Students’ Association, told Arab News was a government attempt to showcase “a fake truth and reality about Kashmir.”
New Delhi-based Kashmir activist Nasir Khuehami said that the trip is a “futile exercise.”
“On the one hand, the government says that the abrogation of the special status is India’s internal matter. On the other, New Delhi takes a delegation of foreigners to Kashmir. The government cannot mislead the world with such a futile exercise,” he said.