India’s G20 moot in Srinagar was a marketing move that has backfired

India’s G20 moot in Srinagar was a marketing move that has backfired

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As the current President of the G20 group, India has convened a meeting of the 19 countries and European Union in Srinagar, Kashmir, from May 22 to May 24. 

The holding of the conference on tourism in the Himalayan valley has raised questions about the motive of its sponsors. The area is one of the most heavily disputed areas on the planet under UN resolutions. Both India and Pakistan have gone to war three times since 1947 over the territory. Not only this, but a full scale insurgency in the valley has caused thousands of casualties and huge damage to property. In 2019, India unilaterally dismantled the status of the territory, which resulted in the abolition of the separate state and the creation of two federal territories i.e. Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. These federal territories are being governed from Delhi. 

Observers are unanimous in their assessment on the selection of Srinagar, the capital of the state, as the venue for an international gathering: The motive is to project ‘normalcy’ in the valley, and to market the area’s reality as contrary to the repression of people, or the well-documented violations of human rights. Ahead of the meeting, India suffered a diplomatic setback because first China decided to abstain and Turkey and Saudi Arabia have not registered for the meeting either.

Whether the move works as intended remains to be seen. But the reality is that an overwhelming majority of the countries in G20 will continue to maintain cordial and mutually productive and beneficial relations with India. Most of these countries take decisions in their own national interests that dictate continued political, trade and commercial interactions with the fifth biggest economy. In addition, India’s record (except for its repressive actions in Kashmir and against Muslims) as a democracy is considered a model for developing countries. Just weeks ago, India surpassed China as the country with the world’s largest population. With its population of 1.4 billion, countries around the world will be eager to develop warm and fruitful relations with India.

Considering that China and India have mutual trade worth billions of dollars, Beijing’s move to abstain from G20 in Srinagar is even more admirable.

Rustam Shah Mohmand

China has once again expressed its solidarity with Pakistan. This is a remarkable step supporting Islamabad’s narrative of an area that has been seeking the right to self-determination in accordance with the resolutions of the UN Security Council. Considering that China and India have mutual trade worth billions of dollars, the move to abstain from the meeting is even more admirable. Once more, China has stood by Pakistan on an issue of deep and complex relevance to Islamabad. 

What will the conference really achieve? World tourism is increasing. New avenues are being discovered. There is tremendous scope and potential for expansion, although all economies are taking hits due to climate change, the Ukraine war, the rapid increase in population, growing poverty etc.

There is undoubtedly enormous potential for tourism in Kashmir. But for that to materialize, the first and foremost need is for peace in the region. As a prerequisite to that, the actions on terminating the separate identity of the state will have to be withdrawn. The separate status of Kashmir has to be restored. And work will have to seriously start on a formula for peace. One such formula was presented by Pakistan in 2004 and was almost accepted by India. That would mandate sanctity for current borders, opening of trade, visits across the Line of Control, etc. Those measures were expected to create an environment for durable peace after a period of time. Sustainable peace between the two nuclear armed neighbors can transform so many lives, ushering in an era of progress and prosperity for more than a fifth of humanity.

Though the marketing move of an international conference held in Indian-administered Kashmir to showcase ‘peace and prosperity’ may be a smart move, it seems to have backfired. The absence of very important countries will expose India’s claim of ‘all’s well’ in the valley. As the delegates watch the hyper security and empty streets with no one moving around, they should realize the truth: that there is deep acrimony and hostility within the population against Delhi’s oppression.

In that context then, the whole idea of trying to orchestrate a false picture of peace and serenity might work to India’s disadvantage after the moot is over. The impression that the valley is peaceful and calm might even have been altogether shattered in the eyes of the international community.

- Rustam Shah Mohmand is a specialist of Afghanistan and Central Asian Affairs. He has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan and also held position of Chief Commissioner Refugees for a decade.

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