Global visitors to Srinagar The Excelsior 01 Jun 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Global visitors to Srinagar The Excelsior 01 Jun 2023

          The G20 3rd tourism working group meeting was held in Srinagar last week. It was attended by almost 60 delegates from different nations including ambassadors of South Korea and Singapore. While China stayed away, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were represented by their travel industry representatives. Chief Coordinator of the G20, Harshvardhan Shringla, stated, ‘We have the highest representation from foreign delegations for the tourism working group meeting in Srinagar than we have had in previous tourism working group meetings.’ The previous two meetings were held in the Rann of Kutch and Siliguri.

          The Indian government had thrown a special security blanket to ensure smooth conduct of the event, while putting an all-out effort to make the meet a success. Possibly Pakistan would have been conveyed a stern message that any attempt at disrupting the event could result in a disproportionate response. Some analysts claimed that a special security blanket does not project normalcy. However, despite a changed environment, the government took no chances.

This being a tourism event, majority participation was from senior diplomatic staff of embassies, apart from national representatives. This has also been the norm in earlier Tourism meetings. Further, not all nations attend all events.

          For India, the Srinagar event held special significance. Since India was conducting G20 preliminary meetings across the country, hence, ignoring Kashmir could be detriment and send a message of insecurity, while conducting it would cement India’s claim. Secondly, visitors would witness a changing Kashmir, where the public is under no pressure, minimum restrictions exist, with markets open and flourishing. Thirdly, the region, its culture, heritage and cuisine would be on the global tourism map. Finally, it would project that abrogation of article 370 was justified and those objecting have no relevance.

          Delegates posted images of Shikara rides, welcome at the airport and reception at their place of stay. The Singapore ambassador tweeted, ‘Ended the day with a scenic Shikara ride on the Dal Lake followed by a cultural performance and delicious Wazwan dinner! Thank you.’ Similar messages also flowed from others. There were no calls for bandhs nor were there any protests in Srinagar against the meet.

          There had been objections from Pakistan, its ally China and their paid mouthpieces against the event, hoping that it would result in Delhi shifting the venue. In such a scenario, apart from being a diplomatic victory for Pak, it would also certify the region as disturbed. Pakistan cried hoarse, including accusing India of ‘violating international law.’

Bilawal screamed, ‘India cannot suppress the voice of Kashmiris through a conference.’ He begged all Pak allies to apply pressure on India to cancel the event. All this lost steam with the visitors personally experiencing levels of development and economic progress amidst normalcy.

          Protesting and not participating in events are two different issues. Reasons for not participating could be multiple. The choice is of the nation. The issue is protesting on its conduct or location. China was the only nation to join Pakistan in formally protesting.

Pakistan, by handing over the Shaksgam Valley, part of J and K, to China in 1963, and permitting the CPEC to traverse through Kashmir has forcibly made Beijing a part of the dispute. Apart from this, China and Pakistan are closely linked. The Chinese spokesperson stated, ‘China is firmly opposed to holding any kind of G20 meetings in disputed territory, and will not attend such meetings.’ India discarded Chinese comments and termed them ‘frivolous.’

Other Pak lackeys, including the UN Special Rapporteur (SR) on Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes, voiced concerns. Fernand tweeted, ‘By holding a G20 meeting of the working group on tourism in Srinagar, the Government of India is seeking to normalise what some have described as a military occupation.’ The Indian government responded firmly, ‘(the SR) acted irresponsibly to politicize this issue, misused his position as SR to publicize on social media his presumptive and prejudiced conclusions in a gross violation of the Code of Conduct for SRs.’

The Pak National Assembly’s committee on foreign affairs even summoned the foreign affairs secretary and foreign minister for a briefing, displaying that it is aware that lost the battle on Kashmir has been lost.

Interestingly, there were no objections from the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation). The fact that India conducted the meeting, with few nations missing, is a diplomatic defeat for Pakistan. No wonder Bilawal stated in Muzaffarabad, ‘history remembers that it was India that took the Jammu and Kashmir dispute to the Security Council as a dispute yet to be resolved.’

Simultaneously, there were attendees who projected a different Kashmir. Amjad Taha, a British-Bahraini social media influencer, posted a video from Kashmir comparing it to Switzerland and Austria. He described Kashmir as a ‘true paradise on earth, where Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians live in peaceful co-existence.’

Since Pak sought a boycott and China formally objected, the meeting automatically gained global media attention, further cementing India’s claim and highlighting Kashmir as a global tourist destination. Most media houses mentioned India was showcasing ‘restoration of stability and normalcy’ in Kashmir.

There were few so-called experts, including from the US, who insisted that normalcy remains ‘elusive.’ US critics fail to comprehend that there are fewer incidents of killing by terrorists in Kashmir in a year, than in the US in a month by gun violence, largely due to hate crimes.

With majority member nations and guests attending the event, the message sent is that the global community accepts the Indian position that Indo-Pak differences are no longer global but bilateral. Further, India is a country, no global leader can ignore. Witnessing additional security arrangements with a smiling population, open markets and evidence of development conveys that while there are no major internal security concerns, threat from Pakistan sponsored terrorists remains.

India managed to convey that Kashmir is no longer a security concern but an opportunity waiting to be tapped, while visiting it is no longer taboo or fraught with danger. At the end of the day, while Pak may continue to cry hoarse, India has won the diplomatic battle and conveyed that Kashmir is peaceful and moving towards development, despite disruption attempts by Pak and China.