Diplomats Visit: The Complete Story

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by Tahir Bhat

Srinagar

A group of 25 envoys led by the German ambassador landed in Srinagar well before noon and spent the day in Srinagar. They met politicians, journalists, businessmen and some civil society members even as they speared some time for the Shikara ride.

Foreign envoys pose for a group photo with top police and civil administration in Srinagar on Wednesday, February 12, 2020.

Led by German ambassador, the delegation comprised envoys from Afghanistan, Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, the European Union, French Republic, Guinea, Hungary, Italy, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Rwanda, Slovak Republic, Tajikistan, Uganda, Uzbekistan.

Details suggested that soon after they landed in Srinagar, they check in their hotel and had a luncheon meeting with local entrepreneurs and political leaders. Officials said they got a security-related briefing later in the day.

Meetings

One official said the visiting envoys met as many as 120 people. These included entrepreneurs, businessmen, politicians, scribes and a few specially-abled people. Some professionals from tour and travel segment also met the delegation. A group of young people being trained by the government under-skilled society also met the visiting envoys. Not much is known what happened during the interactions.

All these Shikara carried envoys on a joy ride in famous Dal Lake in Srinagar on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

The envoys were supposed to visit Baramulla but the trip was cancelled because of inhospitable weather conditions. Kashmir has, all of a sudden, turned gloomy because of the western disturbances which led to a mild downpour in Srinagar and some snow in upper reaches including north Kashmir.

News agency IANS said that BJPs Khalid Jahangir and Congress state general secretary Usman Majeed met the delegation. Jehangir later told the news gatherer that he raised the issue of political detentions and said that former Chief Ministers should be set free if “there are no charges against them and (if) they are not involved in any unlawful activity.”

Majid who met in personal capacity told the news agency that he raised the issues of “business losses, internet blockade, detention of politicians, (and)  development activities in Kashmir.” The agency quoted him saying: “I told them the government of India should compensate for the loss of Article 35A and that the fight for the restoration of statehood will continue.”

Shikara Ride

The envoys were covered by the media in the afternoon when they came out and went for the signature Shikara ride in the Dal Lake, hardly a furlong down the hotel.

A group of foreign envoys enjoying Shikara ride in famous Dal Lake in Srinagar on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

It was after the ride that one of the score odd envoys made a couple of comments. Identified as Frank Hans Dannenberg Castellanos from the Dominican Republic, his video that has gone viral on social media, shows him saying: “We are here just as tourists.” He described Kashmir Valley as “the most beautiful place”.

Afghanistan envoy Tahir Qadiry was quoted by the news agency ANI saying: “It is great to come to Kashmir. We’ve been here only a couple of hours but can see shops open, children going to school etc. Met civil society members also, they really want peace in Kashmir.”

Security officials escort foreign envoys as they walk on the banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

ANI was perhaps the only news agency that could get a line from a couple of delegates. “It’s important to visit Kashmir. You can’t have a dialogue about Kashmiris if you haven’t heard what expectations and wishes they have for the future,” Denmark envoy to India, Freddy Svane was quoted saying. “It is important to have a holistic picture.”

“This is a very important part of India,” Dinah Grace Akello, Uganda’s High Commissioner told the ANI. “People I’ve been talking to want this region to be developed. I met people from sports, those interested in economic growth & those who want to bring investors here. I see a lot of hope now.”

However, some members did not felt talking in a rush. “We came here and want to talk to people, any hasty reaction right now would not be good,” the news agency quoted German Ambassador Walter Lindner saying. “So let us talk to people, let us exchange notes, then will speak.”

Running Commentary

What distinguishes this visit of the diplomats – the third since August 5, 2019, was that one of the delegation members was posting a literal running commentary of the visit using his twitter. He was Tahir Qadiry, the Kabul man in Delhi. He is reported to have written as many as eight tweets and uploaded photographs of the events as well. His tweets filled the information vacuum about the visit to a great extent. His tweets, at the same time, led his followers – he has acquired many news followers during the day-long visit in Kashmir – to ask him “Sir, which VPN you are using in Kashmir?”

Afghanistan envoy Tahir Qadiry posing for a photograph. Kl Image by Bilal Bahadur

Here are his tweets in chronological order:

Qadiry started almost from midair. Uploaded a photograph of the valley shrouded behind the clouds and snow, he tweeted: “Along with 25 foreign envoys, including Germany, EU, Uzbekistan, Canada… we are on a tour of Jammu & Kashmir organised by the @MEAIndia to have a first-hand assessment of the situation on the ground. This part of the world (aka Paradise on Earth) has always been on my wish-list.”

The second tweet from the banks of the Dal lake: “Upon our arrival, we enjoyed a #Shikara ride on Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir. Beautiful lake and hospitable people. I bought a beautiful Kashmiri ring from a boat serving as a shop.”

Qadiry then moves to the business. “J&K produces 80 percent of India’s Apple, according to a participant. So much potential for investments. A Kashmiri businessman urges the envoys to encourage their countries to partner with them.”

He gave a bit of his schedule: “We (25 foreign envoys) are interacting with the traders, businesswomen & entrepreneurs in Srinagar about the status of business & tourism in J&K on the sideline of our tour to this beautiful valley.”

Qadiry put on record the Kashmir hospitality: “We Afghans claim that we are Mehman-Navaz (Hospitable), but the Kashmiris are definitely so too. Interacted with a bunch of young people here. This girl is a gold-medalist in basketball with very high hopes. Wishing this beautiful valley & it’s people lots of good wishes!”

Finally, he listed his interaction with the media: “In our interaction with the Kashmiri media outlets, the media people seriously urged the govt to restore the internet broadband as it is causing them so much problems to report and broadcast.”

In between, he shared various photographs of the Dal lake, houseboats and the women peddling the Shikaras’. “A Kashmiri woman paddling her boat through the Dal Lake, Srinagar. Like Venice, lots of shopping points selling local handicrafts & boat resorts in the middle of the lake. Undoubtedly the valley has a lot of potential for boosting tourism.”

Qadiry, who has been a reporter himself before getting into diplomacy, triggered quite an interest by his tweets on social media. Some of his tweets triggered a chain reaction. Senior journalist Nirupama Subramanian reacted to Qadiry: “Did they unblock Twitter just for you ambassador?”

Over To Jammu

The delegation on a 2-day visit – with a night halt at Srinagar, is flying to Jammu on Thursday. They are scheduled to have a meeting with the Lt Governor G C Murmu and civil society groups.

The envoys after they came out from Shikaras in famous Dal Lake Srinagar on Wednesday, February 12, 2020. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

The visit came days after two former Chief Ministers were slapped with Public Safety Act. It came almost three weeks ahead of a crucial vote to a set of six resolutions against India in the European Parliament. This is the third delegation of foreign envoys in a row. First came in October that triggered a lot of heat and dust because most of its members were from far-rights European parties. The second came in January 2020. The 15 envoys who visited Kashmir last month included that of USA, Vietnam, South Korea, Brazil, Niger, Nigeria, Morocco, Guyana, Argentina, Philippines, Norway, Maldives, Fiji, Togo, Bangladesh, and Peru.

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