G20 in Srinagar: The impossible validation
The marketing buzz words are plenty: New Kashmir, diplomacy hub, shining Kashmir-- all in an effort to portray a pleasant normalcy, with hyper security just out of view belying India’s ‘peace and prosperity’ campaign. Women in Kashmiri attire are brought out to sing and dance, wrapped in greens, pinks, blues and purples. The attempt is to banish red, to hide, to camouflage the checkered history of pain and resistance spread through three centuries.
As the G20 tourism meeting gets underway, it’s important to recall that the saga on the very shores of their festivities began in 1846, when the East India Company sold the Muslim majority area of Kashmir to the Dogra chief Ghulab Singh of Jammu for seven million rupees.
This is the first international event India is holding in Srinagar since it unilaterally stripped its home state of its special status in August 2019. This was followed by well documented state repression, large scale arrests, tough controls over movement, the absence of communication, internet, freedom of expression etc.
Steeped in hyper security today are the shores of Srinagar's Dal lake as G20 guests are welcomed at the venue of the meeting. Through their silence, their stories, their sacrifices, their martyrs and their varied struggles, the Kashmiri resistance has continued for far too long. And this is where the diplomatic gala now takes place.
Stories of state cruelty and repression in Indian-administered Kashmir have found a place in the reports of human rights organizations ranging from Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch to the United Nations’ OHCHR. The 2019 OHCHR report about Kashmir raises serious concerns about abuses by state security forces, crowd control measures that use shotguns, investigations into alleged extrajudicial killings and legal immunity for security forces.
Against this backdrop, the attempt at the G20 meeting to portray normalcy is merely a desperate attempt at seeking global validation of Delhi’s colonial settler project in Kashmir.
Also the objective is to showcase Srinagar as a great tourism resort and to gain global investment to promote tourism there.
UN Rapporteur Fernand de Varennes emphasized that using the G20 meeting to “portray an international seal of approval” on the Kashmir situation should be condemned.
Whatever India’s objectives, it finds itself in a difficult space. Two facts underscore this. One, several countries have decided to stay away from the G20 event. China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia will not participate, either at all or through local representation from their embassies in Delhi.
Most importantly, United Nation’s Security Council’s permanent member China is missing and has been particularly categorical about not attending. Without mincing words, the Chinese spokesperson said at the conclusion of the Fourth Pakistan-China Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue earlier this month, that “the Kashmir dispute was left over from history and should be properly and peacefully resolved in accordance with the UN Charter, relevant Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements.” The two foreign ministers “opposed any unilateral actions that further complicate the already volatile situation.”
And two, the UN Special Rapporteurs' statement on the human rights situation in Kashmir was a timely one, comprehensively exposing India's unilateral project in Kashmir. UN Rapporteur Fernand de Varennes emphasised that using the G20 meeting to “portray an international seal of approval” on the Kashmir situation should be condemned.
Clearly, current G20 meeting attendance will reflect the reality of how various countries engage with one of the most serious human rights and political rights issues on the global scene. The environment within Jammu and Kashmir and especially Srinagar, tells the tale of the repression of a people fighting for freedom.
Pakistan rightly took the opportunity to underscore its commitment to the Kashmiri freedom struggle, drawing legitimacy from UNSC resolutions. From the soil of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto sent a clear message: “We stood by them (Kashmiris) for decades and I assure you that we will stand for as long as it takes.”
This unequivocal support right now from a Pakistan faced with massive political and economic challenges, carries more conviction than usual.
— Nasim Zehra is an author, analyst and national security expert.