Diplomats from nearly two dozen countries visited India-occupied Kashmir on Wednesday 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.
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.
Earlier this week, the Foreign Office said that India was trying to present a false and misleading narrative on the situation in occupied Kashmir by taking foreign diplomats on a tour of the valley.
Commenting on the trip, FO spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said it was a part of India’s “efforts to mislead the world community”.
“Such guided tours are a smokescreen aimed at diverting international attention from India’s egregious human rights violations in IIOJK (Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir), and creating a false impression of normalcy,” the spokesman said.
“The visit would mean nothing if there is no access to all the areas and possibility to freely interact with Kashmiri people and the civil society in an atmosphere free of intimidation,” he added.
The spokesman emphasised that foreign diplomats should be given an opportunity to meet the Hurriyat leadership, many of whom are incarcerated, to enable them to make an objective assessment of the ground realities.
“The Indian notion of so-called normalcy in IIOJK has no feet to stand on.”
The previous two trips by foreign dignitaries to the occupied region were made in January and February last year. These visits are tightly controlled and leave little room for making an independent judgement of the situation.