UK may lift travel advisory to Kashmir by year-end
Jammu, August 8: Following the footsteps of Germans, Great Britain may lift the travel advisory for its citizens visiting Jammu and Kashmir by the end of this year. The British High Commission, which sent several teams to Kashmir last year, has given a positive response to the requests of the state authorities in this matter. The state has been pursuing the case with both western and commonwealth countries for the last five years.
Sources in the tourism department said the recent spurt in militant activity is giving some anxious moments to the officials pursuing the matter but they are also buoyed by an increasing number of foreign tourists visiting the state, particularly Ladakh.
“The British High Commission’s report, which is submitted from time to time to the Home office in England, will be crucial this time. So far, we have received positive response during the meetings this year,” said a senior officer of the department.
Last year, Germany became the first European country to lift the two-decade-old travel restrictions for its citizens visiting Kashmir, which has been engulfed by separatist insurgency since 1989.
The travel advisories were issued by several western countries, including the United States, after six foreign tourists were abducted by Al Faran, a mysterious terrorist outfit, near Pahalgam in July 1995.
Later, a Norwegian named Hans Ostro was beheaded and an American named John Chides managed to escape the terrorists’ clutches. As if this was not enough, four other tourists- American Donald Fred Hutchings, British Paul Wells and Keith Mangan and German Dirk Hasert- went missing.
The tourism department has been organising a number of programmes in many western capitals to showcase the changing face of Kashmir but the efforts were overshadowed by various incidents of violence during peak season since 2008.
Tourism minister Nawang Rigzin Jora said this time, the government was quite hopeful. “We have a lot of expectations from the UK as its decision, being the head of the Commonwealth countries, is important. If they lift the travel restrictions, other countries will follow suit,” Jora said.
The minister said as far as the United States was concerned, it made its own independent assessment of the situation in South Asia. “Meetings with the British have been positive and I have pursued the case with several diplomats in New Delhi,” Jora added.
Lawyer and social activist Nadeem Qadri said, “The advisories project the state as a conflict-prone region and because of these, it is difficult to promote group tourism here. No insurance company will cover for people visiting the state.”
In 2002, 7,806 foreigners visited the state, which increased to 24,330 in 2003; 41,000 in 2004; 44,345 in 2005; 46, 087 in 2006; 53,087 in 2007; 55,000 in 2008; 51, 255 in 2009 and 48,115 in 2010. Till July this year, more than 50,000 foreigners have visited the state.