A second group of foreign envoys visited Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday, since the region’s special constitutional status was revoked in August. Kashmiri media outlets talked to the group about the problems they were facing because of internet restrictions.
“In our interaction with the Kashmiri media outlets, the media people seriously urged the government to restore the internet broadband as it is causing them so much problems to report and broadcast,” tweeted Afghan envoy Tahir Qadiry.
The Centre had suspended internet services in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh on August 5 last year, just before imposing a security lockdown. Mobile 2G internet services were restored in a limited way for both prepaid and postpaid connections only on January 25, after over five-and-a-half months. However, this access was provided to just 301 “whitelisted” websites.
Earlier this week, the Kashmir Press Club had raised concerns about the inability of journalists in the region to operate freely due to alleged obstruction by authorities. The organisation took note of the alleged physical attacks, threats and summons towards journalists during a meeting.
The 25 envoys reached Srinagar airport at around 11 am for a two-day visit, and went for a boat ride on the Dal Lake, after their trip to the town of Baramulla in North Kashmir got cancelled because of bad weather, The Indian Express reported.
Later in the day, they met businessmen and entrepreneurs in Srinagar. “We are interacting with the traders, businesswomen and entrepreneurs in Srinagar about the status of business and tourism in J&K on the sideline of our tour to this beautiful valley,” Qadiry said. “J&K produces 80% of India’s apples, according to a participant. So much potential for investments. A Kashmiri businessman urges the envoys to encourage their countries to partner with them.” The envoys also interacted with youngsters.
Meanwhile, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter criticised the visit of the envoys to the region and said it was an “orchestrated diplomacy”. “How lovely,” Iltija Mufti said in a tweet from her mother’s handle. “[North Korean dictator] Kim Jong Un would be proud of such orchestrated diplomacy. The only thing missing is presence of 3 former Jammu and Kashmir ex CMs in this ‘curated shikara’. I’m sure they’d have lots to share.”
Mufti also questioned how the Afghan envoy was able to access Twitter as social media sites were banned in Kashmir. “Your excellency please do enlighten us Kashmiris about which VPN you are using to tweet,” she asked. “We will also download and tweet freely.”
Virtual Private Networks, or VPN, allow users to mask their location and browse the internet more securely.
In January, envoys from 16 countries, including the United States, South Korea, Vietnam and Norway, had visited Srinagar. The visit was facilitated by the central government. After several media reports claimed it was a “guided tour”, the government issued a strong denial. The envoys met many Kashmiri political leaders, including Ghulam Hasan Mir, Altaf Bukhari, Shoaib Iqbal Lone, Hilal Ahmed Shah, Noor Mohammad Sheikh, Abdul Majid Padder, Abdul Rahim Rather and Rafi Ahmed Mir.
In October, around two dozen members of parliament from the European Union had been taken to Kashmir on a much-criticised tour. The politicians in the group were mostly from far-right nationalist parties. Indian Opposition parties have repeatedly targeted the government for facilitating these visits of foreign envoys and political leaders to Kashmir, while Indian MPs were facing obstructions when trying to enter Srinagar.