The United States on Saturday called the visit of envoys from 16 countries to Jammu and Kashmir an “important step”. But the US State Department also voiced concern over the detention of political leaders and the internet blockade in the region. US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster was part of the delegation to assess the situation in the Union Territory.
“Closely following @USAmbIndia and other foreign diplomats’ recent trip to Jammu and Kashmir,” State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs tweeted. “We remain concerned by detention of political leaders and residents, and internet restrictions. We look forward to a return to normalcy.”
The delegation of envoys were from 16 countries such as the United States, South Korea, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Maldives, Morocco, Fiji, Norway, Philippines, Argentina, Peru, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Guyana. Delegates from the European Union are believed to have refused the invitation because they did not want a guided tour and would not be allowed to visit detained chief ministers.
This is the second visit of foreign delegates to Jammu and Kashmir since the Centre abrogated the region’s special status and converted it into two Union Territories in August. In October, around two dozen members of parliament from the European Union were taken to Kashmir on a highly orchestrated tour. Before that the MPs met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The diplomats had met several Kashmiri political leaders and visited a Kashmiri migrant camp at Jagati on the outskirts of Jammu.
In a lockdown since August 5
On August 5, the central government amended Article 370 of Constitution and imposed prohibitory orders in the region. It also divided the state into the two Union Territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. While postpaid mobile and SMS services have resumed in Kashmir, internet remains blocked. The Ladakh administration on December 27 restored 4G mobile internet connectivity in Kargil, after a gap of 145 days.
A number of political leaders, including three former chief ministers, in the erstwhile state have been detained since August 5. Former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah’s detention under the Public Safety Act was extended by three months on December 15. At the moment, he is confined to his Gupkar Road residence in Srinagar. Omar Abdullah is at Hari Niwas, while Mehbooba Mufti was initially lodged at Cheshmashahi hut, but was later shifted to a government accommodation.
The Narendra Modi-led government has faced global pressure to restore normalcy in the Valley. On October 25, the United States asked India to provide a road map for the restoration of normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir, including the immediate release of all political detainees.
The Supreme Court had on Friday ordered the Jammu and Kashmir administration to review forthwith all restrictive orders imposed in the Union Territory. The bench of Justices NV Ramana, R Subhash Reddy and BR Gavai said suspending internet indefinitely violates telecom rules.