Pakistan on Thursday urged India to let neutral observers visit Jammu and Kashmir to asses the ground situation post the revocation of the erstwhile state’s special status under Article 370, PTI reported. The country’s statement came as envoys from 24 countries undertook a two-day visit to the Union Territory.
Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said during a press briefing that observers from the United Nations, Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and international media must be allowed to visit Kashmir and speak to the residents freely.
Meanwhile in a separate statement issued on Thursday, India said that the delegation of foreign envoys were able to get a first-hand experience of Jammu and Kashmir’s “march on the path of inclusive development” and “dynamism” in grass-root democratic institutions after the District Development Council elections.
Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said that the envoys participated in a democratic outreach initiative called “Block Diwas” in Budgam district on Wednesday. “The interaction at the Block Diwas event provided the envoys an opportunity to hear directly from the general public and local level people’s representatives on the functioning of empowered grass root democratic institutions, devolution of power and developmental activities,” Srivastava said.
The spokesperson said that the envoys also spoke to elected local representatives in Srinagar. “Both in Srinagar and Jammu, the group interacted with representatives from civil society, including youth from different ethnic, religious and socio-economic communities, local business and political leaders, civil administration and representatives of mainstream media,” Srivastava added.
The foreign ministry spokesperson added that the envoys were also briefed about the security situation, “including external threats, in J&K and on the initiatives of J&K police relating to community policing and engagement”.
Srivastava said the envoys met Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and other senior officials in Jammu. “The Lt Governor shared the vision of peace, progress and prosperity for J&K, apart from highlighting key people-centric development projects that are underway and also planned in J&K,” the statement said.
However, political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir have criticised the envoys’ “guided” visit. “Thank you for visiting Kashmir,” National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said in a tweet on Thursday. “Now please send some real tourists from your countries to visit J&K.”
The delegation of envoys was led by European Union Ambassador Ugo Astuto. It comprised of diplomats from France, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Sweden, Belgium, Estonia and other countries.
India has organised two visits for foreign envoys since it abrogated Article 370 on August 5, 2019, and split Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories. The move was accompanied by a crackdown, including deployment of thousands of additional troops, a sweeping curfew, thousands of arrests, and a virtual communications blackout.
Authorities have since eased several restrictions, including the restoration of landlines and internet services.
However, the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, an independent body co-chaired by former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur, said in a report released last week that rights violation continued in the erstwhile state – 18 months after the abrogation of its special status under Article 370.
The organisation noted that the counter-insurgency concerns were being prioritised over civilian and human security, “leading to vitiation of protections such as habeas corpus, prevention of illegal detention and strict restrictions on arrest and detention of children”.