India hosts tightly-secured G20 tourism meeting in Kashmir
A G20 meeting on tourism began on Monday under tight security in Indian-administered Kashmir, where New Delhi was trying to project an image of normality in the disputed territory, rocked by decades of insurgency.
The organization of the G20 meeting on the shores of Dal Lake in Srinagar, which is to last three days, has been condemned by Beijing and Islamabad.
India is promoting tourism in Kashmir where more than a million Indians visited last year.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan which, since their independence in 1947, have claimed sovereignty over the entirety of this predominantly Muslim Himalayan territory. He was the cause of two of the three wars that have opposed them since.
The Indian-administered part has seen more than three decades of unrest, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Police warned last week that security had been tightened ‘in vulnerable places to avoid any risk of terrorist attack during the G20 meeting’, the first diplomatic event in the territory since New Delhi placed it under its control live in 2019.
– “Far from normal” –
G20 member China has warned it will not attend the event, and no delegations are expected from Turkey or Saudi Arabia.
Two Indian government ministers are attending, but several Western countries have sent local diplomatic personnel.
“Does the Modi government think tourism can be promoted in closed conference halls, next to a scenic lake where marine commandos patrol and surveillance drones overhead?” journalist Bharat Bhushan in the daily Deccan Herald.
“Such dramas clearly show that the situation in J&K (Jammu and Kashmir) is far from normal,” he added.
Since the revocation of Indian Kashmir’s semi-autonomy, the separatist insurgency has been largely crushed, although young men continue to join it.
The Anti-Fascist Popular Front, a separatist group that emerged in Kashmir after 2019, issued a statement on Monday condemning the meeting in Kashmir and threatening to “deploy suicide bombers”.
“Today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. It will come,” he said.
On Monday, soldiers and armored vehicles were deployed across Srinagar.
But many checkpoints had been dismantled overnight and some paramilitary police, appearing to try to minimize their visibility, remained confined behind G20 billboards.
– “Infested with terrorists” –
To travel to Kashmir, foreign journalists must obtain special permission from the Indian government, which they are generally refused.
But permits have been issued to the foreign press, valid only for coverage of the G20 meeting itself and limited to Srinagar.
Holders of these permits are required not to “spread anti-Indian narratives” and not to visit “terrorist-infested places without prior permission”.
India holds the G20 presidency for 2023 and has scheduled over 100 meetings in the country. Beijing has previously stayed away from events held in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.
India and China are in a military stalemate along their de facto border in the Ladakh region. Beijing also claims the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as part of Tibet and considers Kashmir to be disputed territory.
“China firmly opposes holding any form of G20 meeting in disputed territory and will not participate in such meetings,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Friday.
Pakistan, which is not a G20 member but controls a small part of Kashmir, said hosting the meeting there violated international law, UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements .
India, which accuses Pakistan of training and supporting separatists in Kashmir, which Islamabad denies, has strongly replied.
Last week, the UN special rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, ruled that New Delhi was “instrumentalizing” the G20 meeting by casting it as “an international stamp of approval” for a situation that ” should be decried and condemned”. His comments were rejected by India.
According to a senior official who requested anonymity, hundreds of people have been detained in police stations and thousands more, including shopkeepers, have received calls from officials warning them against any “signs of protest or trouble”.