European lawmakers begin J&K visit

As many as 23 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) arrived in Kashmir on a two-day visit on Tuesday to assess the ground situation after scrapping of J&K’s special status and recorded the feedback from the Army, local officials and 15 delegations, as the Valley observed a complete shutdown and saw a spurt in street protests. “We are looking for the facts. It is a good occasion to get some views. I do not have enough facts to reach a conclusion. We are conscious of the context. We are also conscious that we were being kept away from some people,” Spanish MEP Herman Tertsch said. Earlier in the day, United Kingdom MEP Chris Davies, whose invite was rescinded after he made a request to meet people without any escort, said, “I am not prepared to be part of a PR stunt for the Modi government and pretend that all is well. It’s very clear democratic principles are being subverted in Kashmir and the world needs to start taking notice.” Around four MEPs have reportedly backed out from travelling to Kashmir. On arrival, the European Union (EU) delegates drove through Srinagar city from the airport to their hotel located near the Dal lake, under a heavy security blanket. The cavalcade also drove past four detention centres, where three former Chief Ministers and several mainstream politicians were being held since August 5. The EU delegates held across-the-table interactions with 15 delegations, including of traders, grassroots leaders, students, a three-member women’s group and civil society members, at the Lalit Grand Palace hotel, just next to Hari Niwas where National Conference vice-president Omar Abdullah is being detained. The members also took boat rides on the Dal lake in the evening. Global Youth Foundation head Touseef Raina, who met the MEPs, said he highlighted that youth of J&K witnessed “enough bloodshed and wanted an end to it.” “We told the MEPs that youth draw inspiration from the EU-like system. We underlined there was no leadership in J&K. The unfortunate decision to bifurcate J&K is a collective failure of the regional mainstream parties and separatists. If they had worked in a selfless manner, Kashmir would have been a peaceful place,” said Mr. Raina. BJP spokesman Altaf Thakur, who led a delegation of panchs and sarpanchs, said, “Kashmir is normal. There are some forces that want to disturb peace here. Otherwise, people want to open shops and students want to go to educational institutes. Article 370 was like a wall, stopping the State’s development.” A women’s delegation highlighted the issue of unemployment. Earlier, General Officer Commanding, 15 Corps, Lt. Gen. K.J.S. Dhillon hosted a lunch to the visiting delegates at the Badamibagh Cantonment. Sources said the Army apprised the team of the situation on the Line of Control (LoC), infiltration bids from across the border and the internal situation. In the evening, the EU team also met senior officials of the J&K government for their feedback on the situation. Meanwhile, no prominent traders’ body, civil society group or regional political parties interacted with the EU delegation. President of the Valley’s apex traders body, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI), Sheikh Ashiq said his association was not invited.

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