SRINAGAR: For the first time since the abrogation of Article 370, Centre has allowed a delegation of 15 foreign envoys including US Ambassador to India Kenneth I Juster to visit Kashmir for on-the-spot assessment of the situation.

Besides US Ambassador to India, diplomats from Bangladesh, Vietnam, Norway, Maldives, South Korea, Morocco, and Nigeria are also part of the team. Brazil’s envoy Andr’ Aranha Correa do Lago is also part of the delegation.

The diplomats’ visit comes against the backdrop of EU envoys’ decision to pull out after they allegedly expressed reservations over a “guided tour”. Sources said they wanted free access to people included three incarcerated former chief ministers.

Soon after landing in Kashmir, the delegation drove to the army’s 15 Corps headquarters where they were briefed by the top army commanders on the situation. Indian diplomats too briefed the envoys about the current situation.

The delegation also met political leaders and civil society groups separately. A group of expelled and current PDP leaders led by former finance minister Altaf Bukhari and former tourism minister Ghulam Hassan Mir also met the delegation

On Tuesday two expelled leaders –Mohammad Altaf Bukhari and Ghulam Hassan Mir — had led an eight-member delegation including six former PDP legislators–Mohammad Dilawar Mir, Zaffar Iqbal, Javed Hussain Beig, Noor Mohammad Sheikh, Choudhary Qamar Hussain and Raja Manzoor Ahmad—to meet Lieutenant Governor Girish Chandra Murmu.

“It was a free and fair discussion. They were certain questions they raised and we apprised them about the pain we felt when Article 370 was abrogated. More political activities will be seen after incarcerated political leaders get released,” said Altaf Bukhari after meeting the delegation.

What came as the biggest surprise was that the chief spokesman of PDP Mohammad Rafi Mir also broke ranks with his party and joined two expelled members to meet the foreign delegation in on Thursday.

Rattled by the defiance, PDP immediately went into a huddle and expelled all leaders who met Murmu and foreign diplomats from the basic membership of the party. “We have expelled all leaders from party basic membership”, said Suhail Bukhari, PDP spokesman.

Others who met the delegation included youth activist Tawseef Raina. “Interaction was great. We discussed the situation. I told them I am a youth activist and we have seen bloodshed. I urged them that they should play their role and support peace, not violence and extremism”, Raina said.

Raina also praised the government for avoiding casualties post abrogation of Article 370. “I told them that we are thankful to the government for handling the situation responsibly and not allowing any casualty to happen. Plus, we also said people want restoration of the internet”, he said.

Ishfaq Ul Hassan

An accredited journalist with 22 years of professional experience, Ishfaq-Ul-Hassan has worked as a reporter based in Kashmir for two decades. He has covered various beats including militancy, politics, defence, minorities, social issues, religious groups and women issues in Kashmir. He had previously worked as Special Correspondent in Jammu and Kashmir for DNA (Daily News and Analysis) Newspaper for 13 years. Ishfaq is also associated with the New Delhi- based television company `Asia Pacific Communication Associates’ which produced the famous series “Subah-Bakhar-Kashmir” for satellite Kashmir channel of Doordarshan. In 2004, he was awarded the Charkha-Sanjoy Ghosh Fellowship for Peace and Development for his research on families divided across the LOC in Kashmir.

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