G20 Tourism Meeting Commences in Contested Kashmir Amid Heightened Security Protocols
Delhi opened a tourism meeting of the Group of 20 nations in Indian-administered Kashmir on Monday amid tight security, a move condemned by China and Pakistan.
Muslim-majority Kashmir has been disputed between New Delhi and Islamabad, both of which claim it in full, since their independence 75 years ago.
The Indian-controlled part has been plagued by decades of insurgency seeking independence or integration with Pakistan, with tens of thousands of Kashmiri civilians, soldiers and rebels killed in the conflict.
Police said last week that security had been beefed up to “avoid any chance of a terrorist attack during the G20 meeting,” the first diplomatic event in the province since New Delhi revoked its limited autonomy and took direct control in 2019.
The three-day gathering will be held at a sprawling and well-guarded venue on the banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar.
Roads leading to the site were kept covered in black, and electricity poles were lit up in the colors of India’s national flag to show what officials say is the “return of normalcy and peace” to the area.
India has been promoting tourism in Kashmir and more than a million of its citizens visited it last year.
No Chinese delegation will attend this event.
India and its northern neighbor are locked in a military confrontation along their mostly demarcated border in the Ladakh region.
Beijing also claims the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of Tibet, and considers Kashmir a disputed territory.
“China firmly opposes holding any form of G20 meeting in the disputed territories and will not attend such meetings,” Wang Wenbin, a foreign ministry spokesman, told reporters on Friday.
Türkiye, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia are reportedly unlikely to join.
India holds the G20 presidency for 2023 and has planned more than 100 meetings across the country.
China has already stayed away from the events in both Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.
Pakistan, which is not a member of the Group of Twenty, controls a smaller part of Kashmir and said holding the tourism meeting in the region violated international law, United Nations Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said last week that India is showing its “arrogance to the world” and is “showing pettiness”, prompting a sharp response from New Delhi.
India accuses Pakistan of training and supporting militants in Kashmir, which Islamabad denies.
Since India’s constitutional changes of 2019, the insurgents in Kashmir have been largely crushed – although young people continue to join the insurgency.
But dissent has been criminalized, media freedoms curbed and public protests curtailed, in what critics describe as a severe curtailment of civil liberties by India.
Last week, the UN special rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, said New Delhi was seeking to use the G20 meeting to “depict an international seal of approval” for a situation that “should be condemned and condemned”. India rejected those comments.
Residents were alarmed by the heightened security measures, hundreds were arrested at police stations and thousands including shop owners received calls from officials warning them of any “signs of protest or unrest”.
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