February 18, 2021 2:53:36 am
The envoys of 24 countries from Europe, Africa and the Middle East arrived in Srinagar on Wednesday as part of a two-day visit of Jammu and Kashmir – the third such visit since the August 2019 abrogation of J&K’s special status and the bifurcation of the erstwhile state into two Union Territories.
The delegation included French Ambassador Emmanuel Lanain, Dutch Ambassador Marten Van Den Berg, EU Ambassador Ugo Astuto, Bangladesh High Commissioner Muhammad Imran and Swedish Ambassador Klas Molin, among others.
Parts of Srinagar observed a shutdown on account of the visit, with major markets remaining shut.
After landing at the Srinagar airport, the diplomats met representatives of Panchayati Raj Institutions as well as some local residents at Magam, Budgam. The heads of missions attended the “Block Diwas’ public outreach initiative by the J&K administration and were apprised of the various government schemes being implemented in the area.
In Budgam, the delegation also met DDC chairman Nazir Ahmad Khan. However at least eight other members of the council — all from the National Conference — were restricted from attending the meet, National Conference District president Abdul Ahad Dar said. “I, along with five other DDC members of my party, have been kept at a hotel in Humhama. Two other members from our party have been confined to their homes and have not been allowed to leave the premises and meet the visiting foreign delegation.”
Meanwhile, in Srinagar, the delegation met with recently elected chairpersons of the District Development Councils (DDC) from the ten districts of the valley, as well as Block Development chairpersons (BDC) and presidents of at least nine municipal committees from the valley and Srinagar mayor Junaid Mattu.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Mattu said, “The visiting dignitaries had questions about the scenario in Kashmir, especially about the recently-held elections, decentralisation of power, new developmental initiatives and more. I told him that the elections were free and fair and that there was widespread participation and there is empowerment of grassroots democratic institutions.”
Pulwama DDC chairman Syed Abdul Bari Andrabi of the PDP who attended the meeting said the discussions involved the “transparent process” in which the elections were conducted and that elected members expressed the hope that that the purpose of creating these bodies gets fulfilled. “For now we have not resumed office. We hope that we are able to meet our objectives,” Andrabi said.
The envoys also visited the Hazratbal Shrine on the banks of the Dal Lake before heading to the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC) for meetings with civil society groups.
Speaking on the sidelines of a party convention at Kupwara, former chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said, “Delegations will come and go but the situation in Kashmir is not okay and this is the reason they do not let the local leadership step out of their homes.”
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