After envoys’ visit to Kashmir, India needs more diplomacy | Opinion
The first visit of foreign envoys to Kashmir organised by the government is being seen as an effort to shape the narrative after months of bad press over the communications blackout and security lockdown in the region.
A group of 15 senior diplomats, including the envoys of the US, Norway and South Korea, interacted with political leaders, civil society representatives, elected grassroots politicians and the media in Srinagar on Thursday. They are meeting top officials and others in Jammu on Friday.
From all the reports that have emerged, the envoys did raise pointed questions on the impact of the Indian government’s decision of August 5 last year to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, whether Pakistan is meddling in the region and the current situation in the Kashmir Valley.
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The political leaders and others who met the envoys too brought up their long-standing demands – the full-fledged restoration of internet connectivity, the release of all detained political prisoners, economic development, restoration of statehood and adequate safeguards for land ownership by locals.
However, the envoys did not meet the politicians who have been detained since last August, including three former chief ministers. Nor did they meet the top rung of the leadership of the National Conference or the PDP, the two major political players in Kashmir. The meetings with the envoys were conducted in strictly controlled conditions, which is understandable in view of the severe security threats from terrorists.
The visit also exposed fissures within the PDP, with the party moving to expel some leaders who met the envoys.
The government conveyed its position on the situation during a briefing for the envoys by security officials and army commanders, which focused on the threat of cross-border terror and the situation along the Line of Control (LoC). The envoys were also shown videos of infiltration along the LoC.
This visit is expected to address some of the international community’s long-standing concerns about the situation in Kashmir. The presence of US ambassador Kenneth Juster in the group adds diplomatic heft to the exercise, especially since Washington has been among the capitals that have been calling for an end to the internet shutdown and the release of all detained politicians.
As the external affairs ministry said on Thursday, this visit is just a beginning and more such trips are expected to be organised as the situation in Kashmir progressively normalises.
The next test for the government could be a planned visit by envoys from European Union states, who are believed to be holding discussions with the external affairs ministry for more unfettered and unregulated access to Kashmir and the people. Some of the sharpest criticism of the government’s actions in Kashmir has come from EU leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has said the situation in the region is “not sustainable”.
At the same time, the government will have to step up efforts to deliver on its promises of better security conditions, improved governance and rapid economic development – three factors cited repeatedly for the August 5 move to scrap Kashmir’s autonomy.