India hosts G20 meet in Kashmir despite criticism

A G20 tourism meeting has begun under tight security in India-administered Kashmir, as New Delhi seeks to project an image of normality in the contested territory

The G20 India logo cutout (DW)
The G20 India logo cutout (DW)
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DW

Delegates from the Group of 20 nations are taking part in a tourism meeting in India-administered Kashmir from May 22 to 24, marking the first time a significant international event is being held there since New Delhi stripped the region of its limited autonomy in 2019 and split it into two federally administered territories.

The three-day gathering is taking place at a sprawling, well-guarded venue on the shores of Dal Lake in the region's main city of Srinagar.

In the run-up to the meeting, the city was spruced up, with roads leading to the venue being freshly black-topped and electric poles lit up in the colors of India's national flag.

Authorities also built new roads, pavements, walking spaces and parking areas, while flyovers, bridges and other city attractions were illuminated and adorned with artistic murals.

During the gathering, the delegates will discuss topics like green tourism and destination management.

Side events on ecotourism and the role of films in promoting tourist destinations have also been scheduled.

On Monday, Srinagar appeared calm. Most of the security checkpoints were either removed or turned into cubicle-like security posts made of G20 signages behind which security officials stood.

What did Pakistan and China say?

The region remains one of the world's most heavily militarized territories, with hundreds of thousands of Indian troops.

Since New Delhi took the region under its direct control and cracked down on separatism, violence has largely subsided.

But Kashmiris say the tentative peace comes at a cost.

And fighting between government forces and militants who are opposed to Indian rule still erupts periodically.

Critics say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government — by holding the event in Kashmir — wants to show the world that normalcy has returned to the disputed territory.

Last week, the UN special rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, said the meeting would support a "facade of normalcy" while "massive human rights violations" continue in the region.

India's mission at the UN in Geneva rejected the statement as "baseless" and containing "unwarranted allegations."

Pakistan and China also slammed New Delhi's decision to hold the gathering in Srinagar.

Islamabad called it an "irresponsible move," while China suggested relevant sides should avoid "unilateral moves" that may "complicate" the situation.

New Delhi dismissed these objections, saying that such conferences are being held across India and that it is "natural" to host such events in Kashmir as it is an "integral and inalienable" part of the country.

Since 1947, the Muslim-majority region has been a point of contention between India and Pakistan. China also claims a small part of the region.

India currently has de facto control over about 45% of the region and the majority of its population, while Pakistan controls around 35%. The remaining 20% is under the control of China.

Sprucing up Srinagar for G20 meet

There have been mixed reactions when it comes to the accelerated infrastructure development in Srinagar in the lead-up to the gathering.

Some criticize the government for not factoring the city's rich cultural heritage and ecological fragility into its construction plans.

In their haste to remodel Srinagar, an architect, who asked not to be named, argued that authorities did not pay enough attention to protecting the architectural identity.

But Athar Aamir Khan, the chief executive officer of the Srinagar Smart City project, denied such claims.

Conservation of traditional architecture is a top priority, he noted, while stressing the significance of the G20 meet for improving the city's economic and employment prospects.

"The G20 has built momentum, and the work which used to take one year is being completed in three months. The face-lifting of the city is inspired by the traditional architecture while modern urban designs and principles are being taken into account," Khan said.

India's G20 presidency amid tough times

India took over the presidency of the G20 — an economic cooperation bloc comprised of 19 countries and the European Union — in December last year.

The G20 has emerged as the world's premier intergovernmental forum, comprising both developed and developing countries. The bloc accounts for roughly two-thirds of the world population and 80% of world trade.

India holds the G20 presidency amid tough times, with the world confronting a raft of geopolitical and economic crises. Foremost is Russia's war on Ukraine, which has triggered an unprecedented food and energy crisis alongside soaring inflation.

Modi's government is hosting a total of 215 G20 meetings at over 55 locations this year, four of which will be focused on promoting the tourism sector. And India is set to host the G20 leaders' summit in New Delhi in early September.

Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru

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