ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI: Pakistani foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said on Monday New Delhi was ‘misusing’ its presidency of the Group of 20 (G20) countries by hosting a tourism meeting of the forum in Indian-administered Kashmir, an internationally recognized disputed territory.
The meeting, being held in the city of Srinagar, 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, promoting Islamabad to downgrade its diplomatic relations with the neighbor and cut trade ties.
The Muslim-majority region is claimed in full but ruled in part by both India and Pakistan, who have fought two wars over control of the territory. The region is also plagued by a decades-long separatist insurgency.
On Monday, the government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the part of the region governed by Pakistan, announced protests and rallies against the holding of the G20 meeting.
“India is hosting the meeting of a tourism working group of G20 in Srinagar, which is yet another display of India’s arrogance on the world’s stage,” Bhutto-Zardari said while addressing the Azad Kashmir assembly.
The foreign minister is visiting Azad Kashmir on a three-day trip to express solidarity with the Kashmiri people as New Delhi hosts the G20 tourism meeting.
“India is misusing its position as a chair of the G20, a forum created to address global financial and economic issues with utter disregard for the UN Security Council resolutions, the UN charter, and its principal,” he added,
The UN Security Council adopted several resolutions in 1948 and in the 1950s on the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, including one which says a plebiscite should be held to determine the region’s future. Another resolution also calls upon both sides to “refrain from making any statements and from doing or causing to be done or permitting any acts which might aggravate the situation.”
UN peacekeepers have been deployed since 1949 to observe a cease-fire between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir, the part of Kashmir administered by India.
As India aims to project normalcy on its side of Kashmir, the Pakistani foreign minister said the “harsh reality” was that Jammu and Kashmir remained one of the most militarized zones on the planet.
“Normal areas are not under siege under millions of troops, normal areas are not operated under so-called governor rule, and normal areas do not have unidentified graves,” Bhutto-Zardari said.
“I wish to remind Indian leaders that unilateral steps in Jammu and Kashmir can neither record legitimacy to their occupation nor suppress the true sentiments of the Kashmiri people as gimmickry cannot replace legitimacy,” he added.
Jitendra Singh, the Indian minister for science and technology who is from Jammu, said during the opening of the meeting that events like G20 would in the past be met with calls for strike from Islamabad and shops in Indian-administered Kashmir would be shut.
“Now, the common man wants to move on, all shops are open,” he said.
Since the 2019 changes, the region known for its rolling Himalayan footills has turned into a major tourist hotspot for domestic visitors, as Indian authorities attempt to attract more economic activity into Kashmir and woo 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 was 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 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.
Speaking about the G20 meeting, former Pakistani diplomat Naghmana Hashmi said India was trying to create the “false impression” of peace in Kashmir.
“But India will not succeed as the world knows that India has unleashed a rule of suppression and by force controlling the lives of Kashmiri people,” she told Arab News, adding that Pakistan was “happy” to note that countries like China who had decided to boycott the meeting.
“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.