Stay Away From Kashmir Resorts, F&CO Tells UK Citizens

3 June 2014
Greater Kashmir
Imran Muzaffar

Srinagar: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in New Delhi has recommended to the citizens of the United Kingdom not to travel to tourist destinations of Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Gulmarg in Kashmir, thus continuing with its decade-old harsh advisory that has dealt a severe blow to state's tourism industry. 'Please note that the tourist destinations of Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg fall within the areas to which the FCO advise against all travel,' the Commonwealth Office notified on its official website on May 27. 'The FCO advises against all travel to Jammu and Kashmir with the exception of travel within the cities of Jammu, Srinagar and Ladakh region.' The latest FCO announcement comes following the US Department of State's adverse travel advisory on Kashmir that cited 'militant incidents' and 'violent public unrest' in Kashmir. Like American citizens, the advisory for European nationals to not travel to Kashmir has been in effect since 1995 when six foreign tourists were kidnapped by a militant outfit Al-Faran in south Kashmir's Pahalgam in Islamabad (Anantnag) district. The kidnapped tourists included two British citizens, Keith Mangan and Paul Wells. Out of the six hostages, one American had escaped. Others were killed. More than a decade later, in their investigative book, 'The Meadow,' two foreign journalists, Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, held intelligence agencies and home-grown renegades responsible for the kidnapping of the tourists and their subsequent murder. In the advisory, the Commonwealth Office has also stated that there has been an overall 'decline in violence' in the state in recent years and an 'increase' in number of foreign tourists. 'There have been no recent reported attacks on visitors in the cities of Srinagar or Jammu,' it states. The FCO, however, adds that foreigners remain vulnerable in rural districts and outside the main population centers and tourist areas. 'There is a risk of unpredictable violence, including bombings, grenade attacks, shootings and kidnapping,' it says. 'The long-standing policy of the British Government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The level of consular assistance that the British High Commission can provide in Jammu & Kashmir is extremely limited.' The FCO has also made a mention of a July 2012 grenade attack on a minibus carrying tourists in south Kashmir's Bijbehara district in which 'three people were killed, including two British nationals, and four were injured.' These continuous advisories, officials and trade bodies in Kashmir have noted, has deeply affected tourism sector. 'The advisory has a huge impact on state's economy as high-spending tourists desist from visiting Kashmir,' Kashmir's Director Tourism Talat Parvez had said in reaction to the extension of travel advisory by US State Department this year. In February, the US Department of State extended by one year the advisory citing 'militant incidents' and 'violent public unrest' in Kashmir. It also prohibited its employees from traveling to Jammu & Kashmir without permission. The tourist resorts of Gulmarg and Pahalgam, the US advisory had read, were volatile.