Writing on the Wall

As things are unfolding after G-20 tourism conference in Srinagar, it will become very difficult for Pakistan to sustain its claim over the India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

By Dr. Moonis Ahmar | July 2023

May 22-24, 2023 conference of G-20 tourism working group was held in Srinagar, the capital of the India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K) with a hope that economy and tourism in Kashmir will get an impetus. Held under tight security and attended by 60 international delegates, the conference was not participated by China, Turkiye, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia in view of Pakistan’s request and the disputed nature of IOJ&K. Even then, the conference reflected a changed face of Srinagar, as a ‘smart city’ which accommodated hundreds of foreign tourists who went for shopping and enjoyed the ride in boathouses along famous Lake Dal.

Can the recently held G-20 tourism conference in Srinagar be a game changer for the people of IOJ&K and India? Will peace return to conflict-ridden India-occupied Jammu & Kashmir despite reservations expressed by some Muslim Kashmiri leaders that efforts to seek legitimacy of Indian absorption of J&K under August 5 illegal acts by revoking Articles 370 and 35-A will not materialize? Is Pakistan a loser in its battle to seek IOJ&K, which is termed as an unfinished agenda of the partition of the sub-continent in August, 1947?

It is true that merely by holding a tourism conference in an occupied territory, New Delhi cannot amend ground realities, particularly in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley. That India, despite its claims to launch several developmental projects in J&K and seeking a paradigm shift in the cycle of violence unleashed since 1990, is unable to win the hearts and minds of the local people, particularly Muslim Kashmiris, who enjoy a clear majority in the Valley.

As reported by BBC, “Local opposition leaders, including former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, have criticized the elaborate security arrangements and accused the federal government of making life even more difficult for ordinary people. In a press conference, Mehbooba Mufti compared the restrictions in Kashmir ahead of G20 to that of the notorious US military prison, Guantanamo Bay. The Jammu and Kashmir administration has not responded to this yet.”

According to the same source, “Last week, Fernand de Varennes, the UN’s special rapporteur on minority issues, had issued a statement saying that the G20 was “unwittingly providing a veneer of support to a facade of normalcy when human rights violations, political persecution and illegal arrests were escalating in Kashmir”. But, who can overlook the fact that despite efforts made by Pakistan to fail G-20 tourism conference, India managed to hold that event with a great success.

Images of foreign and local tourists shopping Kashmiri handicrafts, carpets, shawls and other items from well-decorated shops in Srinagar, along with their boathouse ride along scenic Lake Dal cannot be denied. The conference held in Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre deliberated for three days on how to promote tourism in Jammu & Kashmir so that employment and investment opportunities are created. Dubai’s famous Emmar group decided to invest $30 million to construct a huge mall and shopping centre in Srinagar. Tourists thronged shopping sites like Nishat Garden, Cheshma Shahi, Pari Mahal, Kashmir Arts Emporium and Polo View Market and orders of several thousand dollars were given to buy famous Kashmiri handicrafts, pashmina, shawls, carpets, and the like.

Srinagar is a place that for decades has experienced curfew, siege and search operations by security forces, along with closure of internet, extra-judicial killings, violence and scourge of terrorism. However, the city gave a totally different look on the occasion of conference with renovated footpaths, roads along with decorated walls reflecting G-20 logo painted in the colour of Indian flag.

New Delhi used that occasion for projecting its policies for peace, normalcy and development in J&K. Yet, New Delhi and its installed state government made extra efforts for securing not only the venue of conference but other places where tourists were residing or visiting for shopping and sightseeing.

According to the reports: “For this three-day G20 Summit, from May 22-24, in Kashmir a three-tier security grid for aerial surveillance drone monitoring is put in place. National Security Guard (NSG) and MARCOS (military unit Marine Commandos) have been deployed around the venue. Jammu and Kashmir Police’s Special Operation Group (SOG) has been deployed at several places to give security cover to prevent any terror incident”. It is yet to be seen, to what extent the Modi regime will be successful in retaining superficial peace in J&K and use it in forthcoming general elections scheduled in 2024.

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