ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari arrived in Azad Kashmir on a three-day visit to express solidarity with the Kashmiri people, Pakistani state media reported on Monday, as New Delhi hosts a Group of 20 (G20) tourism meeting in the part of the Himalayan region it administers.
The meeting will be the first significant international event in Kashmir since New Delhi stripped the Muslim-majority region of semi-autonomy in 2019. Indian authorities are hoping the meeting will show that the controversial changes have brought “peace and prosperity” to the region.
The government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir has announced protests and rallies throughout the region on Monday against the G-20 summit in Srinagar city and human rights abuses in the Indian-administered section.
“Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari will address the joint session of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly and Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council in Muzaffarabad on Monday,” the state-run Radio Pakistan reported.
“He will reiterate Pakistan’s unwavering support to the people of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir in their just struggle for right to self-determination.”
Ties between bitter rivals India and Pakistan stand frozen since August 5, 2019, when New Delhi revoked the semi-autonomous status of the part of Kashmir it controls, dividing it into two federally administered territories.
The Muslim-majority Himalayan region has been a bone of contention between Pakistan and India since their independence from British rule in 1947. Both neighbors rule parts of the Himalayan territory, but claim it in full and have fought two of their four wars over the disputed region.
Pakistan calls the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy part of New Delhi’s alleged attempts to change the demography of the region and has demanded the world fraternity take notice of it.
But New Delhi has countered the objections, saying it is free to hold meetings on its own territory.
Since the 2019 changes, Srinagar, known for rolling Himalayan foothills and exquisitely decorated houseboats, has become a major domestic tourist destination. Hotels have been mostly booked out for months. Kashmir has also drawn millions of visitors, who enjoy a strange peace kept by ubiquitous security checkpoints, armored vehicles and patrolling soldiers.
For the G20 meeting, the city has spruced up its commercial center and roads leading to the convention center on Dal Lake, while police have increased security even further, placing a massive security cordon around the site.