London, Nov. 11: Mufti Mohammad Sayeed undertook his very own Mission Kashmir in London today where, in a meeting with British journalists at India House, he enthusiastically promoted the state as a holiday destination and even as a romantic setting for honeymoons.
Shrugging off an attack on his own Srinagar residence recently, the chief minister said people wanted peace, normality was returning, the cricket bat industry was up and running and even Bollywood crews were coming back to shoot song and dance sequences in Kashmir.
However, Mufti’s sales pitch did not convince the British Foreign Office, which is worried about the non-Bollywood kind of shooting.
“We strongly advise against travel to Kashmir,” said its spokesman. “It is not that we advise against travel, we strongly advise against travel to Kashmir,” she emphasised.
The spokeswoman added: “Our travel advice is intended for British nationals for their safety and it is kept under constant review. This advice is based on our assessment of the situation. I have no indication that this advice is going to change.”
This tough foreign office line represents a major rebuff for Mufti who clearly hopes that an improving economy will help to ease tension in Kashmir. However, the foreign office website, which paints quite a negative picture of India (“There is continuing risk of terrorism in India,” it begins), is clear-cut on Kashmir.
To British nationals who might be tempted by Mufti’s softsell, it says: “Levels of violence remain high in Jammu and Kashmir... There is a risk of kidnapping. Militants took hostage five nationals, including two Britons in July, 1995; one was murdered and the others are believed dead.”
Continuing in this vein, the advice goes on: “You should be aware of travel agents who will try to convince you that it is safe to travel to Jammu and Kashmir. Despite increased official promotion of Kashmir as a tourist centre, tensions remain high there. No matter how convincing the agents appear to be, their advice should not be followed.”
Needless to say, this is not the kind of promotion which appears in the literature of the Jammu and Kasmir tourism board which is represented for the first time in many years in the World Travel Market currently being held in London.
Mufti, however, appeared remarkably confident in his meeting with senior journalists, including a number from the BBC.
Mufti said the government intended to invest Rs 1,700 crore in the state, which would benefit from new road and train links as well as a newer and bigger international airport.
On talks with Pakistan, he commented: “They have to talk. They can’t say, ‘We won’t talk.’”
Asked which films had been shot in Kashmir, he could not immediately think of any, but one of his accompanying officials suggested: “Line of Control.”
On honeymoons, Mufti said that those who had enjoyed one in Gulmarg might consider returning.