The G20 tourism conference is taking place in the Indian-controlled region of Kashmir under heavy security measures, drawing criticism from both China and Pakistan for hosting the event in the contentious area. The ongoing dispute between India and Pakistan over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir has lasted 75 years since their independence, with both nuclear powers claiming the entire region but only governing parts of it. Two out of the three full-scale wars fought between these nations have been over this territory.
The Indian-administered part of Kashmir, which is the nation’s sole Muslim-majority region, has experienced an armed uprising for decades as rebels demand either independence or unification with Pakistan. This conflict has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers, and Kashmiri insurgents. Authorities mentioned that security was heightened last week “to avoid any chance of terrorist attack during the G20” meeting, marking the first diplomatic event in the disputed area since New Delhi abolished its limited autonomy and assumed direct control in 2019.
Taking place on the banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar, the main city of the region, the three-day event commences Monday at a highly secured and expansive venue. Officials have prepared the area to demonstrate what they describe as “normalcy and peace returning” to the region by resurfacing roads leading to the site and illuminating electricity poles with the colors of India’s national flag.
On Monday, Srinagar seemed peaceful, with most security checkpoints either removed or disguised using G20 signage to create cubicle-like stations for security personnel. Authorities have also trained hundreds of officers in what they refer to as “invisible policing” for the event.
However, officials closed the primary road leading to the convention center for civilian traffic and shut down numerous schools in the city. The security measures on Monday were in stark contrast to those implemented in the days preceding the event. A large security perimeter was established around the venue by the Dal Lake, with elite naval commandos patrolling the water in rubber boats.
India has been advocating for tourism within its part of Kashmir, attracting over a million visitors last year. Indian authorities hope that the G20 meeting will demonstrate how the 2019 alterations brought “peace and prosperity” to the region. Delegates will explore topics such as sustainable tourism and destination management. Additionally, side events focusing on ecotourism and the role of films in promoting tourist destinations are planned.
Harshvardhan Shringla, India’s chief coordinator for the G20, told reporters on Sunday, “We have the making of a unique meeting.” He highlighted that the event would feature the highest number of foreign delegates compared to previous tourism meetings held in West Bengal and Gujarat earlier this year.
However, Dr. Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a political analyst based in the region, told Al Jazeera that the G20 meeting would only hold significance for the people of Kashmir if there were a sense of normalcy. He stated, “Now, normalcy does not mean normalcy of a graveyard where you have restrictions on media, restrictions on people and people languishing in jails.” He added, “And at the same time you want to project to the world that everything is normal.”
China opts out No Chinese representatives will be present at the event. India and China are currently engaged in a military standoff along their mostly undefined border in the Ladakh region. Beijing lays claim to the entirety of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of its Tibet province and regards Kashmir as a disputed territory. “China firmly opposes holding any form of G20 meeting in disputed territory and will not attend such meetings,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin informed reporters on Friday.
Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia are also reportedly unlikely to participate, according to an AFP news agency report. India, which holds the G20 presidency for 2023, has scheduled over 100 meetings across the nation. China has already abstained from attending events in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.
Pakistan, a non-G20 member that governs a smaller portion of Kashmir, argued that hosting the tourism meeting in the territory contravenes international law, United Nations Security Council resolutions, and bilateral agreements. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari stated last week that India was showcasing its “arrogance to the world” and that “it shows their pettiness,” eliciting a strong response from New Delhi. India accuses Pakistan of training and supporting armed insurgents in Kashmir, which Islamabad refutes.
Since India’s 2019 constitutional amendments, the rebellion in Kashmir has been largely suppressed, although young men continue to join the cause. However, dissent has been criminalized, media freedoms restricted, and public protests limited, leading critics to argue that India has severely curtailed civil liberties. Last week, UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes, said that New Delhi was attempting to use the G20 meeting to “portray an international seal of approval” on a situation that “should be decried and condemned.” India dismissed those remarks.
The increased security measures have caused frustration among residents, with hundreds detained in police stations and thousands, including shopkeepers, receiving calls from officials warning them against any “signs of protest or trouble.”