Kashmir G-20 tourism meeting has broader political message: Analysts

Kashmir G-20 tourism meeting has broader political message: Analysts

Kashmir Valley meeting in the backdrop of scrapping region’s autonomy

By Hilal Mir

SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir (AA) - India is set to host the third G-20 working group meeting in the Jammu and Kashmir region on May 22-24 as head of the 20-nation group.

The location is to send a message to the world that the contested region is a non-negotiable part of the country, said analysts.

It is the first major international event to be organized after Aug. 5, 2019, when the Muslim-majority region’s autonomous status was scrapped, raising fears that Muslims would be rendered a powerless minority.

Since then, the Hindu nationalist Indian government has been pushing the narrative that the region was like any other part of India and its autonomy had been a hindrance to its economic development, in addition to breeding separatism.

Senior journalist and political commentator from the Jammu region, Tarun Upadhyay, told Anadolu that holding the meeting exclusively in the Kashmir valley -- which is nearly 97% Muslim and the hub of the 32-year-old insurgency -- is a politically-loaded message for Pakistan, the Kashmiri people and the world at large.

“To the world, India wanted to convey that Kashmir is like any other part of the country. If a G-20 meeting can be held in Goa, it can be held in Kashmir,” said Upadhyay. “For Pakistanis, the message seems to be ‘forget about Kashmir.’ For Kashmiris, the message is ‘wipe out the idea of separatism from your heads’ as the world has acknowledged our claim on Kashmir and the powerful grouping of nations is enjoying our hospitality in your midst.”

“This is the narrative the ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) seems to be pushing by holding the meeting in Kashmir. How far that succeeds remains to be seen but in the end, they would have to talk to the people of Kashmir to resolve this,” he said.

Apart from deliberations on tourism, foreign delegates would be taken on a sightseeing tour to the Gulmarg ski resort, Anadolu learned from officials who requested anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to the media.

A schedule for the three-day event has not been issued and it is not clear if guests will meet political leaders.

As a prelude to the meeting, the University of Kashmir held Y20 (Youth 20) Consultation between May 10 and 11, which saw 17 youth delegates from G-20 countries deliberate climate change and disaster risk.

On May 2, Australia’s Ambassador to India, Barry O-Farrell, met the Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha.

The governor’s office said the two discussed “development in J&K (Jammu and Kashmir) and investment opportunities in the Union Territory, particularly in horticulture and food processing sector.”

“Discussions also focused on areas of interest, including technology, renewable energy, and tourism and the lieutenant governor stressed the importance of the upcoming G-20 summit as an opportunity to showcase the region’s economic potential and ongoing efforts to enhance international investment,” it said.

Farrell also met top Kashmiri business leaders.

In addition to the US and Japan, Australia and India are part of an informal strategic forum called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad, which is seen as a grouping basically formed to reduce Chinese domination. China had criticized India’s decision to scrap the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir.

Arun Gupta, a spokesperson of the BJP, told Anadolu that there was no political messaging in holding the meeting because G-20 meetings have also been held in other Indian states.

“Weather in Kashmir is pleasant this season and Kashmir is a tourism hub. Kashmiris are happy with the arrival of millions of tourists for the past few years and this year we expect even more tourists to come. Kashmir is important to us. All efforts are being made to develop it and present the real picture to the world,” he said.

Construction in several areas of Srinagar, especially the main business hub of Lal Chowk, is part of an ongoing Smart City development project. Because of the meeting, the works, which include rebuilding sidewalks and blacktopping roads, are being carried out nearly around the clock in a few areas the foreign dignitaries might visit or pass through.

In a region where an armed anti-India insurgency has been raging for the past 33 years, security measures have been tightened.

Police Director General Vijay Kumar recently told reporters that India’s special forces, including marine commandos and elite National Security Guard troopers, would be deployed to help secure the dignitaries. They would complement tens of thousands of police, army personnel and paramilitary soldiers already deployed across the beautiful valley.

Security would be especially tight after two deadly attacks in the region in April and May, which killed 10 soldiers, including five elite paratroopers.

After scrapping the region’s autonomy, India has ramped up diplomatic efforts to bolster claims for the move, which was condemned by Pakistan and China, which control parts of the undivided region as it existed before 1947, the year India and Pakistan came into being.

India has invited parliamentarians from Europe to Kashmir twice since 2019 amid criticism that handpicked people were paraded to defend the scrapping of autonomy and the division of the region into two federally ruled territories directly ruled from New Delhi through the office of the lieutenant governor. Elections have not been held since, although the Indian government has repeatedly assured that the region’s statehood would be restored and elections would be held.

The assembly of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir could pass laws independent of Indian parliament and the state had its own Constitution and flag.

Imran Nabi Dar, a spokesman for National Conference, the largest political party that has ruled the longest in the region’s chequered history, said the G-20 was a distinguished forum that discussed and resolved big issues confronting the world.

“We hope our crisis is also discussed and the government of India realizes that democratic spaces needed to be strengthened,” said Dar. “The irony is that while this meeting is being held in Kashmir, Kashmir has been removed from a democratic process.”​​​​​​​

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