SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Envoys from 15 countries including the United States arrived in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Thursday, the first visit by New Delhi-based diplomats since the government stripped the region of its semi-autonomous status and began a harsh crackdown five months ago.
The diplomats were driven by Indian authorities in a motorcade amid tight security from the airport to the military headquarters in Srinagar, where they were briefed on the security situation, an army officer said. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
They also held discussions with civil society members and some Kashmiri politicians, said Raveesh Kumar, India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman.
The objective of the visit, organized by the Indian government, was for the envoys to see first-hand “how things have progressed and how normalcy has been restored to a large extent” in Kashmir since August, Kumar told reporters in New Delhi.
India's Hindu nationalist-led government ended Muslim-majority Kashmir's semi-autonomous status in August. The move was accompanied by a harsh crackdown, with New Delhi sending tens of thousands of additional troops to the already heavily militarized region, imposing a sweeping curfew, arresting thousands and cutting virtually all communications.
Authorities have since eased several restrictions, lifting roadblocks and restoring landlines and cellphone services. Internet service is yet to be restored in the Kashmir valley.
They have encouraged students to return to school and businesses to reopen, but top political leaders from the region continue to be under arrest or detention.
Outside access to the region remains limited, with no foreign journalists allowed to visit since the clampdown began.
In October, a group of European Parliament members had visited the region, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan in its entirety.
Diplomats representing the United States, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Norway, the Maldives, South Korea, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Argentina, the Philippines, Fiji, Uzbekistan, Peru and Togo comprised the delegation visiting Thursday.
The offices, shops and businesses were open in Srinagar on a cold winter day, but the diplomats did not stop to talk to people as they moved to different venues of their meetings.
They were to fly to Jammu, the winter capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, later Thursday and return to the Indian capital on Friday after spending a day there.
Kumar said more such visits to Kashmir by New Delhi-based diplomats were likely in the near future.
Jairam Ramesh, a leader of the opposition Congress party, on Thursday criticized Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government for not yet allowing Indian political leaders to visit the troubled region.