More than two dozen diplomats are visiting Indian-occupied Kashmir, New Delhi said on Wednesday, as the country tries to reassure foreign allies following several months of unrest in the contested territory.
The group includes European diplomats, some of whom declined a previous invitation from New Delhi to visit the region. A proposed vote in the European Union parliament next month could chastise India for its actions in occupied Kashmir.
The Muslim-majority Himalayan region has been in turmoil since New Delhi stripped it of special status and clamped down on communication and freedom of movement in August.
India has since claimed to have eased those restrictions, and restored limited internet connectivity last month, ending one of the world's longest such shutdowns in a democracy.
But many political leaders, including three former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, are still in detention without charge six months after the crackdown, and foreign journalists have so far been denied permission to visit the region.
Representatives from countries including Germany, Canada, France, New Zealand, Mexico, Italy, Afghanistan and Austria are on a two-day visit to “witness for themselves the progressive normalisation of the situation”, India's foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
Representatives from several countries, including Germany's ambassador Walter Lindner, were pictured on a traditional wooden shikara boat on Dal Lake, in occupied Kashmir's main city of Srinagar.
“We are interacting with the traders, businesswomen and entrepreneurs in Srinagar about the status of business and tourism,” Afghanistan's envoy Tahir Qadiry said in a tweet on Wednesday.
Sources familiar with the itinerary said the trip will also include meetings with the Indian army and government officials, as well as journalists and civil society groups selected by the security services.
Last month 15 foreign envoys visited occupied Kashmir — a trip participants characterised as tightly-choreographed with no room for independent meetings.
“Things looked calm, but we only had a very short time out the window of the car to assess the situation,” said a diplomat who attended the previous trip.
“They told the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth,” he added of his meetings with delegates.
“These visits are organised as a smokescreen to trick the international community into believing that everything is fine in Kashmir and to support the Indian viewpoint,” said Abdul Rashid, a Kashmiri trader.
Abrar Ahmad, a student, said that “such delegations must come out of the high-security zones to know what Kashmiris are facing and what they want.”