Srinagar, India, Mar 24 (EFE).- The government in India-administered Kashmir is eyeing more than $9 billion in foreign investment for the disputed Himalayan region battered by decades of armed conflict.
The government hosted a three-day investment conference that concluded on Thursday and was attended by 30 business delegates from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Chinese autonomous region of Hong Kong.
Government officials said the summit held in Srinagar, the main city, was “to explore investment prospects across different sectors” in Kashmir.
Kashmir’s top official, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, who rules the region that has seen no elected government in the past nearly four years, said the authorities were targeting an ambitious foreign investment of 70 billion Indian rupees (approximately $9 billion) by the year-end.
The idyllic region, famous for its freshwater lakes, babbling ice water brooks, lush green meadows, and snow-capped mountains, was once among the top tourist destinations in the world before the armed conflict erupted in the late 1980s.
Ranjan Prakash Thakur, the top bureaucrat for industrial development in Kashmir, said big global business houses were also willing to invest in the hospitality sector of Kashmir.
He said the authorities would not allocate private land to investors but the one owned by the government.
“We are not taking land from the common people. Investors get government land. But now the land laws have changed, so people can decide on their own,” he said.
The remark comes in the backdrop of widespread allegations that the Indian government was changing the demography of the Muslim-majority region in the garb of bringing peace and development to Kashmir.
The Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped the troubled region of its semi-autonomy and divided and downgraded the state into two federally-administered territories in a controversial decision on Aug.5, 2019.
The government enforced a slew of contested measures that allowed outsiders residency rights and government jobs, causing resentment and anger among locals. No outsider was allowed to buy land and property in Kashmir for almost a century.
Since then, Kashmir has been governed by New Delhi-appointed Lieutenant Governor in place of an elected chief minister.
Lt. Governor Sinha credited Prime Minister Modi for attracting the attention of foreign investors, particularly from the Arab world, towards Kashmir.
“Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the friendship between India and the Arab world is reaching new heights,” Sinha said at the conference inauguration.
In January, the Kashmir administration signed 3 billion Indian rupees agreements with UAE-based business houses.
Officials said they allocated more than 2,000 acres of land to these companies have been for investment, and the plan was to increase it to 6,000 acres.
The delegates from Saudi Arabia and the UAE attended the investment summit in Kashmir when Pakistan, which claims sovereignty over the region, hosted the Organization of Islamic Coordination (OIC) conference in Islamabad.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan raked up the Kashmir issue at the 57-member OIC conference, saying the Muslim world of 1,5 billion people had failed Kashmiris and Palestinians alike.
The local business community says inviting foreign investments from Islamic countries would generate employment and tilt the Muslim diplomacy in favor of India’s Kashmir policy.
“Targeting Muslim countries for investing in Kashmir is expected to trump economics over international politics, making the drive an attempt to align these countries with India’s policies over the disputed Muslim-majority region,” a Kashmiri industrialist told EFE, pleading anonymity. EFE