By Shah Abbas
Srinagar, India, Feb 17 (efe-epa).- Large parts of India-administered Kashmir observed a shutdown on Wednesday as envoys from 24 countries arrived in the disputed region in a third tour for diplomats since the government revoked the region’s semi-autonomous status in August 2019.
The envoys from Europe, Africa, South America, and Asian regions rode by government cars for a city tour amid heavy security in Srinagar, the main city of Kashmir.
An official, privy to the tour but is not authorized to speak to the media, told EFE that the government organized the visit to brief the envoys about developmental and democratic measures taken after the abrogation of the special status on Aug.5, 2019.
“This is a diplomatic exercise undertaken by the government of India to counter the propaganda orchestrated by Pakistan at international forums about Kashmir,” the official said.
It is the third of its kind trip organized by the government in the last more than 19 months.
During their two-day stay, the envoys will meet military officials, recently elected local body members, political leaders, and select media persons in the region.
On Thursday, they will meet Lt Governor Manoj Sinha, the federal government-appointee executing the chief ministerial functions in the absence of an elected assembly.
A day before their arrival, authorities removed many security pickets installed after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government ended the Muslim-majority region’s special status.
The sudden move, ostensibly to bring development to the region, came with a harsh military crackdown on politicians and civil society members.
The government brought in tens of thousands of more paramilitary troopers in an already one of the most militarized places on the earth.
The envoys also took a boat ride in the idyllic Dal Lake of Srinagar as parts of the city closed down in protest against the visit.
Shutdown was also observed in central Magam town where the delegation the members met an elected local body.
Areas where the envoys visited in Kashmir shut down in protest against the tour.
“The guided tour of European and African envoys to Kashmir is yet another sham attempt to hide the reality of Kashmir behind a smokescreen of lies,” veteran anti-India politician Syed Ali Geelani, who is undergoing house detention since 2010, tweeted.
“The envoys are being used to project normalcy in the region and hoodwink the international community,” said Geelani, 91, considered a staunch supporter of Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan.
An amalgam of anti-India outfits led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who is in house detention since August 2019, said in a statement that “a curated tour of foreign dignitaries to showcase normalcy to the outside world is misleading.”
Ikram Ahmad, a businessman in Srinagar, told EFE that they pulled down their shutters only to “remind the world of its moral responsibilities on Kashmir.”
Envoys from 17 nations visited Kashmir in January last year.
Earlier, in October 2019, a delegation of 23 EU parliamentarians visited Kashmir.