Foreign envoys begin 2-day visit to J&K to assess situation post-DDC elections
Meet artisans, writers, media persons; visit Magam and Hazratbal
Srinagar: A group of envoys including those from several Europe Union countries and a few OIC member states began a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday to take a first-hand account of the situation in newly-carved union territory, especially after the recently-concluded local body elections.
The envoys which has representation from four Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) — Malaysia, Bangladesh, Senegal and Tajikistan — were taken to Magam in central Kashmir amid heightened security arrangements in the city and elsewhere in the Valley, officials said here.
Other envoys included in this delegation were from Brazil, Italy, Finland, Cuba, Chile, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, Kyrgyzstan, Ireland, Ghana, Estonia, Bolivia, Malawi, Eritrea and Ivory Coast.
This is the third delegation that has arrived in Jammu and Kashmir since the government abrogated the erstwhile state’s special status on August 05, 2019 and bifurcated it into two union territories by carving out Ladakh.
In Magam, the envoys went to a college and were received in a traditional way and after the customary rituals by the administration, they interacted with the locals.
“It was a free-flowing exchange of ideas by the delegation with the locals,” the officials said.
Chairperson of DDC Budgam Nazir Ahmad, who interacted with the envoys, told reporters that he raised the need for the government to provide basic amenities like food, clothing, shelter, electricity and good roads.
“Budgam is a downtrodden district which needs development. Our discussion was centered around it,” Ahmad added.
Later, the delegation was taken to a hotel located along the Dal Lake where they interacted with Mayor of Srinagar, chairpersons of just-formed District Development Councils, Block Development Councils and Municipal Councils.
The delegation was apprised of the government’s initiative of ensuring democracy at grass-root level and strengthening of Panchayats in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir by giving them financial powers.
“A significant thing about the delegation was the inclusion of OIC member states so that they could easily counter the propaganda of Pakistan which has been creating a false narrative about the situation in the union territory,” the officials said.
The delegation is scheduled to visit Jammu on Thursday where they are likely to meet the officials of the Union territory and call on Lt Governor Manoj Sinha.
In a related development, parts of Srinagar observed a shutdown to mark the arrival of the envoys’ delegation to Jammu and Kashmir. Shops in Lal Chowk and elsewhere in the city remained shut as authorities deployed extra security personnel to ensure that the visit of the envoys passes off without any incident.
However, the traffic was plying and roadside vendors also went about their business as usual in many areas.
Senior Congress leader Saifuddin Soz said the visit by the envoys takes place almost every year and is a “futile exercise” as the government has no benefit from it.
“The envoys come here and enjoy the courtesies of the government and go back. Only some of them read the truth behind this exercise. Government of India has advantage of this exercise, it is a futile exercise. It would be better that the government opens a dialogue with the mainstream parties of Kashmir,” Soz said.
Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the visit of the envoys was a “curated tour for misleading the world”.
Last year, envoys from 17 nations, including the United States, had visited Jammu and Kashmir and the team also comprised ambassadors from Vietnam, South Korea, Brazil, Uzbekistan, Niger, Nigeria, Morocco, Guyana, Argentina, Philippines, Norway, Maldives, Fiji, Togo, Bangladesh and Peru.
Immediately three months after the Centre withdrew special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcated it into two union territories, a delegation of 23 EU MPs was taken on a two-day visit to assess the situation in the Union Territory by the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, a Delhi-based think tank.
The delegation visited the historic Hazratbal shrine on the banks of Dal Lake on the first day of their visit to Jammu and Kashmir.
The shrine contains a holy relic, a strand of hair of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The custodian explained to the visiting dignitaries the importance of the shrine to the people, especially those living in Kashmir Valley.
He also gave an account of how the holy relic was brought to Kashmir from Medina in Saudi Arabia in 1634 by a traveller.
After their visit to the shrine, the envoys held a meeting with writers and artists at the musical fountain located within the convention complex of the Dal lake here.
They interacted with artists, poets, musicians and writers.
Some local political leaders and officials from the handicrafts and tourism departments were also seen interacting with the envoys at the gathering.
Emmanuel Lenain, Ambassador from France, and Cuban Ambassador Oscar J Martinez Cordoves showed keen interest in handicrafts especially pottery.
Interacting with Shafi, a junior engineer with the Public Works Department, who is popularly known as ‘Kral Kroor’ or potter girl, the two ambassadors expressed surprise that women folk in the Kashmir Valley were not involved in pottery.
“If women can make a house, they can mould the clay in whichever form they want,” said Shafi, adding that both the envoys told her that in their countries it was females who were predominantly involved in this trade.
The Cuban ambassador informed that women were mainly involved in the arts such as painting and pottery. “I told him that it will take some time for Kashmir to ensure such equality in society,” she said.
The Spanish representative showed some keen interest in embroidery and Pashmina besides the tourism infrastructure.
Later in the evening the envoys also held an interaction with some media persons as well.
During the meeting, the envoys and the media persons discussed the freedom of press, economy, restoration of statehood, governance and related issues.
(With PTI inputs)