G20 meet in Srinagar offers an opportunity to transform the psyche of the people, as the region has long been plagued by a negative and parochial political culture tainted by secessionism and violence. Over time, the aspiration to find an alternative approach has been deeply ingrained in the minds of the valley's residents. The Kashmiris are now making a conscious choice to wake up and look at everything happening around them with pragmatism. The G20 meet in Srinagar is likely to sustain that spirit of soul-searching and self-correction.
Ever since the emergence of secessionist movements in Kashmir, which gave rise to multiple divisions within the region, the individuals at the forefront of these movements have exploited these divisions, leaving little room for other perspectives. A concerted effort has been made to maintain ambiguity and allow conflict-oriented language to dominate the discourse, with discourse handlers playing a significant role in perpetuating this narrative. However, since 2019, a new discourse centered around engagement has gained traction, resulting in a diverse range of stakeholders gradually claiming their space in the conversation. Given that the G-20 working summit is scheduled to take place in Srinagar, this scholarly investigation situates itself in the overall context of Kashmir. It is important to note that the intention here is not to undermine or discredit the genuine political grievances expressed by various parties, instead, it aims to critically examine the potential of "engagement" as a means to uncover solutions for the broader issues at hand and explore the possible outcomes it may lead to.
Srinagar, a compelling choice
In the current context, India has assumed the presidency of the G-20, an assembly of affluent global economies. The organizing body has undertaken the task of dividing time and allocating opportunities among select locations within the country, with the primary aim of highlighting its potential. This endeavor seeks to showcase the inherent diversity of India, encompassing both geographical and cultural aspects.1 Moreover, it offers an avenue to demonstrate the nation's dedication to market prospects and the promotion of ecotourism. Notably, the specific objective here is to engage the burgeoning youth population in India, who have been previously deprived of opportunities due to various reasons.
Srinagar, located in the region of Kashmir, has emerged as a compelling choice for exemplifying India's diversity. Being recognized as one of the finest tourist destinations in South Asia, Kashmir presents itself as a viable location for hosting the G-20 working summit, with a pronounced emphasis on the tourism sector. In recent months, the Kashmir valley has witnessed a substantial influx of investments. Notably, the Emaar enterprise, a UAE-based business group, has taken the initiative to construct a commercial tower in the city center, thereby creating a job market for the local youth.2 The administration of the union territory also demonstrates its commitment to development, as evident from the visual evidence showcasing various ongoing projects in the heart of the city and its immediate vicinity.
Local and Strategic Hues
Jammu-Kashmir is characterized by the intricate politics of regionalism, wherein political leaders consistently adhere to assertions they perceive as politically significant for their respective organizational interests. While regional inducement has historically been effective, the impact of instigation heavily relies on the location and credibility of the instigator. In the present discourse, it is not surprising to note that a Member of Parliament from the National Conference (representing Srinagar) attempted to politicize the G-20 by raising concerns about the denial of opportunities to Jammu. However, the people of Jammu, being aware of his discontent, logically disregarded his instigations.
Furthermore, the ongoing smart city preparations in Srinagar, which are fervently supported by UNESCO, have faced criticism from prominent political and social media figures, labeling it as a political endeavour. Astonishingly, such claims are unfounded, as the delays in the project can be attributed to adverse weather conditions prevailing in the union territory. What cities truly require is an emphasis on beautification and habitability, rather than a political pursuit of status. Ms. Mufti, a leader from the PDP, criticized the project, arguing that the widened roads have been reduced in breadth.3 However, her claim lacks substantial consideration and instead perpetuates “a culture of instigation”.
Pak attempts to vitiate the atmosphere
Prior to the abrogation of Article 370, the state of Jammu and Kashmir, now a Union Territory, experienced recurrent disruptions amidst national, bilateral, and international engagements. Previous peace processes failed to yield substantial outcomes. Similarly, since May, secessionists supported by Pakistan have made persistent efforts to undermine the forthcoming G-20 event.4 In the border area of Poonch in the Jammu division, armed individuals following instructions from across the border have posed a threat to regional peace for over two weeks.
The terrorist attack in Poonch resulted in the loss of five soldiers, with one terrorist neutralized and others still being pursued. Additionally, local sympathizers have been apprehended by the security forces. In a recent revelation, a group known as the People's Anti-Fascist Front (PAFF), which can be considered an evolved version of Lashkar-e-Taiba, openly issued threats and explicitly identified the G-20 event as their next target. According to the group, the event aims at portraying Kashmir as a normal territory, as opposed to their belief that the territory should be regarded as disputed, thus challenging India's position.5
Opponents of the event view it as a political experiment aimed at presenting a narrative of normalcy in the country to the G-20 members. Pakistan, reluctant to accept this notion, has actively urged its allies such as China, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia to boycott the event scheduled for the fourth week of May 2023. In response, Turkey has disregarded Pakistan's request and decided to participate. Turkey's involvement was evident through the presence of participants from their country in the G-Y-20 climate consultation event held at the University of Kashmir.6
The UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has also expressed his interest in participation, while China has remained silent on the matter, although it tacitly aligns with Pakistan's stance on the G-20. This scenario once again underscores the presence of conflict language and regional strategic gamesmanship, which is unfortunate.
Kashmir and the G-20
The opportunity that Kashmir currently has is unprecedented, as this important club possesses limited knowledge about the region, primarily associating Kashmir with conflict due to the one-sided portrayal by international and strategic media outlets under the influence of adverse cross-border propaganda. Nonetheless, Kashmir boasts an exceptional landscape, a diverse culture, and unparalleled potential for tourism. With the assistance of the central government, the residents of the valley have an opportunity to share their positive experiences with the G-20 members.
Throughout history, the world has only been exposed to fear as the name of Kashmir is invoked. True, disruptions and conflicts have been a harsh reality in the valley. But this is mostly because of the negative condition, the culture of violence and mayhem and outpouring of venom against everything India which have been pushed by a tiny section of the people funded by external elements (read Pakistan). The truth remains that Pakistan does not want peace. It does not want solution to the issue, if it believes, Kashmir is a problem. They want it to persist and pester.
The spoilers from Pakistan have repeatedly derailed dialogues initiated by India on different occasions ever since the composite dialogue was kept on hold in 2007. The terrorists struck and created mayhem in Mumbai the day the Pak foreign minister was in Delhi seeking to continue the stalled dialogue process. Hardly a week after PM Modi went to Lahore in a show of friendliness the terrorists attacked Pathankot. Then there were attacks in Uri, in Pulwama and other places every time there were rumours of engagement. There is also a concerted attempt to scotch dialogue by waving the red flag of United Resolutions before the talks.
The Kashmiris know pretty well that UN resolutions of 1947 are a non-starter and they have lost their relevance today. They also know the resolutions favouring a plebiscite was not implemented because Pakistan did not honour the terms of the resolution to pull out all its troops from the occupied terrain in Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK). The ground situation has changed massively since then rendering the resoultions inoperable. Hence, there was an agreement for resolution of all outstanding issues bilaterally through dialogue in Shimla in 1972. This has to be told to the international community.
Because of Pakistan sponsored terror, the tourism sector has suffered, with past incidents of tourists being abducted and facing troubles. Therefore, this G20 event can accurately serve as a catalyst for unleashing a positive trend in tourism by driving home a strong message of normalcy and order. Pakistan does not want it. Therefore, one witnesses provocative incidents like the one in Poonch.
The time has come to shift the direction and showcase the image of peace, prosperity, and development to the world at large through efficient and successful holding of the G20 summit in Srinagar. It will do Kashmiris a world of good. The G-20 event has the potential to stimulate foreign direct investment in the Kashmir valley, which is otherwise regarded as a hotspot for violence and arson.
A renewed influx of tourists and foreign direct investment can ultimately lead to the confidence and assurance among the local population, contribute to the development of a startup culture, enhance business activities, and generate employment opportunities. The youth from Kashmir can join the mainstream in India and can play their roles as bureaucrats, diplomats, entrepreneurs and businessmen dispelling the perception of them as instigators of violence and conflict. This would signify a paradigm shift in the political landscape of the Kashmir valley. Such an opportunity would have been unimaginable in the past when local authorities were powerless against various offenders.
A game changer
This event offers an opportunity to transform the psyche of the people, as the region has long been plagued by a negative and parochial political culture tainted by secessionism and violence. Over time, the aspiration to find an alternative approach has been deeply ingrained in the minds of the valley's residents. The message of normality that the G20 is likely to deliver will thus help build a counter-narrative stressing on peace and prosperity and, hopefully, force the spoilers to rethink their strategy of using terror as an instrument of their policy vis-à-vis India. The Kashmiris were under the spell of the spoilers for long, but now they are choosing to wake up and see everything happening around them with pragmatism. The G20 meet in Srinagar is likely to sustain that spirit of correction. Good luck to Kashmir and Kashmiris.
Toseef Ahmad Bhat is Associate Research Fellow at International Centre for Peace Studies in New Delhi. Syed Eesar Mehdi is a Research Fellow at International Centre for Peace Studies in New Delhi. The views expressed are those of the authors.
2. Basharat Masood, “J&K gets first FDI project – Mall of Srinagar by Emaar”, The Indian Express, March 20, 2023, URL: https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/srinagar/jk-gets-first-fdi-project-mall-of-srinagar-by-emaar-8506936/
3. Ubeer Naqushbandi, “Traditional Aesthetics Destroyed’: Mehbooba Mufti Criticizes Jammu And Kashmir’s ‘Smart City Project”, Outlook, April 18, 2023, URL: https://www.outlookindia.com/national/-traditional-aesthetics-destroyed-mehbooba-mufti-criticises-jammu-and-kashmir-administration-s-smart-city-project--news-279388
4. Abid Hussain, “Pakistan criticizes India’s move to host G20 meeting in Srinagar”, Aljazeera, April 11, 2023, URL: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/4/11/pakistan-criticises-indias-move-to-host-g20-meeting-in-srinagar
5. “Poonch terrorist attack: Pak’s attempt to derail G20 meetings in J&K”, Mint, April 22, 2023, URL: https://www.livemint.com/videos/poonch-terrorist-attack-pak-s-attempt-to-derail-g20-meetings-in-j-k-mint-infocus-11682107338484.html
6. Harsha Kakar, “G-20: Diplomatic battle that India must win”, The Statesman, July 5, 2022, URL: https://www.thestatesman.com/opinion/g-20-diplomatic-battle-india-must-win-1503087213.html