India hosts G20 tourism meeting in Kashmir under tight security

NEW DELHI: Tourism officials from the Group of 20 biggest economies gathered in Indian-administered Kashmir under tight security on Monday, amid boycotts from some of the bloc’s member countries.

The Muslim-majority region is claimed in full but ruled in part by nuclear arch-rivals India and Pakistan, who have fought two wars over control of the territory. The disputed region has also witnessed a separatist insurgency fighting Indian rule for decades.

The meeting, which is taking place under India’s G20 presidency this year, is the first major international event in Kashmir since New Delhi revoked its special autonomous status and split it into two federally governed territories — Jammu and Kashmir — in 2019.

“Earlier, events like G20 would be met with calls for strike from Islamabad and shops would be shut,” Jitendra Singh, the Indian minister for science and technology who is from Jammu, said during the opening of the meeting.

“Now, the common man wants to move on; all shops are open.”

Pakistan, which is not a G20 member, in April described the meeting as irresponsible.

Since the 2019 changes, the region known for its rolling Himalayan foothills has turned into a major tourist hotspot for domestic visitors, as Indian authorities attempt to attract more economic activity into Kashmir by also wooing foreign investors.

Srinagar’s commercial center and roads were spruced up for the G20 meeting, while security was stepped up across the city with extra CCTV surveillance, a counter-drone unit and marine commandos under the elite National Security Guard. Mobility restrictions for civilians were also put in place on major streets.

Altaf Hussain, a former BBC journalist and political analyst based in Srinagar, said the Indian government is seeking to project normalcy in the region.

“By inviting international delegates to Srinagar, New Delhi wants to show that things are normal in the valley and that its move to annul the region’s special status has brought down militancy in the region,” Hussain said.

Over 60 delegates from G20 member countries are expected to attend the tourism event in Srinagar.

China, however, said on Friday that it will not attend as Beijing “firmly opposes holding any form of G20 meeting in disputed territory.” Other members of the bloc, including Turkiye, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia were also expected to stay away, according to reports.

“It is an interesting situation,” Prof. Siddiq Wahid, a Srinagar-based political analyst, told Arab News. “Countries excusing themselves from the G20 event in Kashmir is a significant statement.”

As president of the G20, India will host a summit in September, where leaders from the world’s largest economies, comprising 19 countries and the EU, are expected to attend. The grouping accounts for about 80 percent of global economic output and two-thirds of the world’s population.

“It is a complex situation that suggests a growing distrust of India’s foreign policy,” Wahid said.

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