Odishatv Bureau

New Delhi: The government on Thursday said the objective of taking envoys of 15 countries to Kashmir was to help them see the efforts to bring back normalcy in the Valley after the abrogation of Article 370 and rejected criticism that the visit is like a guided tour.

The envoys from 15 nations including from the US began a two-day government-facilitated trip to Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday. The Congress accused the government of "adopting double standards" by organising "guided tours" to Jammu and Kashmir for foreign envoys, but not allowing Indian politicians to visit the Union territories.

Besides the US, the group comprised envoys from South Korea, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Fiji, Maldives, Norway, Philippines, Morocco, Argentina, Peru, Niger, Nigeria, Guyana and Togo, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.

"The objective of the visit is for the envoys to see the efforts being made by the government to bring the situation to normal and see first-hand the impact of series of steps taken by the local administration to normalise the situation in recent weeks," he said.

Asked why the envoys from the countries of the European Union declined to be part of the group, he said they wanted to visit Jammu and Kashmir in a group, but the government did not extend invite to all.

"We wanted the group to be of manageable size. There was a constraint of numbers. We wanted to have broad-based representation covering various geographical regions...On many issues they (European countries) take group position. Invitation wasn't sent to all (EU) member countries," Kumar said.

Diplomatic sources said envoys from several European countries conveyed to the government that they cannot go at such a notice and sought to visit Kashmir without any restrictions.

Kumar said the government would look at the possibility of taking more envoys to Jammu and Kashmir depending on the situation there.

He also rejected criticism that the visit is a "guided tour".

The envoys visited Srinagar on Thursday and they will be in Jammu on Friday.

Kumar said the programme for the trip was drawn up keeping in mind the threat posed by terrorism and taking adequate precautions for security.

"Since their arrival today morning, the group had a series of meetings. The first meeting was with the security officials to understand the challenges of maintaining security, including the threat of terrorism in the union territory," he said.

"This was followed by an interaction with civil society from all walks of life and from all over J and K. The group also interacted with the local media as well as a group of political leaders," Kumar added.

He said the visit was organised following requests from some envoys based in Delhi.

"Our consistent position has been that any visit to the Union Territory of J and K by foreign dignitaries will be based on assessment by local administration on the prevailing security situation," Kumar said.

Asked about political leaders who met the group, he said the visit by the envoys to Kashmir is not yet over.