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Foreign envoys visit occupied Kashmir amid shutdown

OCCUPIED SRINAGAR, Kashmir: A delegation of foreign envoys, including from African, European and Latin American countries, began their two-day tour of Indian-occupied 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.

Diplomats from nearly two dozen countries visited the occupied territory as residents of the region’s main city closed their shops and businesses in a sign of protest.

This is the third visit by a group of foreign envoys stationed in India’s capital since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stripped Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status in August 2019 and enforced the change with a harsh crackdown that for a time included a complete communications blackout.

The diplomats were driven by Indian authorities in a motorcade amid tight security from the airport in Srinagar city to the western town of Magam, where they met officials and a select group of recently elected village councillors. Shops and businesses in Magam also shut in protest.

The diplomats were also scheduled to meet select groups of civil society members, traders, pro-India politicians, and journalists. They were scheduled to fly to Jammu, the region’s winter capital, on Thursday

After visiting the college in Budgam’s Magam town, the envoys visited the historic marble mosque on the banks of Srinagar’s picturesque lake.

These 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.

Before the 2019 change, occupied Kashmir was a state that had a semi-autonomous status that granted its natives special rights in land ownership and jobs.

In anticipation of a backlash against the removal of that autonomy, Indian authorities sent extra troops into the highly militarised region and launched a harsh security clampdown that cut off phone and internet access, shuttered schools, and left hundreds of thousands without jobs.

Many of the restrictions have since been eased, but India’s security presence in the region remains high.

Ahead of Wednesday’s arrival of the diplomats, authorities removed at least half a dozen security bunkers in Srinagar and its outskirts.

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 said. “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.”