Indian Kashmir hosts G20 event amid tight security, controversies

By Shah Abbas

Srinagar, India, May 22 (EFE).- The third G20 Tourism Working Group meeting began in Kashmir Monday amid unprecedented stepped-up security measures and controversies surrounding the high-profile event in the disputed Himalayan region.

The summit is the first big international meeting in Kashmir since India unilaterally abolished the region’s semi-autonomous status in 2019, leaving it without an elected government.

The government has deployed elite commando forces and thousands of paramilitary personnel in Srinagar, Kashmir’s biggest city, hosting the event of over 100 delegates, including around 60 foreigners.

Authorities claimed that the security was necessary to ensure the safety of the delegates.

But critics accused India of turning the city into a fortress because the government feared protests by locals since the meeting generated controversy in the wake of the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

Pakistan does not recognize India’s sovereignty over Kashmir. It claims the Muslim-majority region that has battled nearly three and half decades of armed rebellion.

This year, India holds the rolling presidency of the bloc of the 20 largest economies, and some of the member countries have opted out of the meeting because of the Kashmir dispute.

Pakistan, which is not a G20 member, has strongly objected to the meeting, seen as a sign that India is trying to project an image of normalcy in the volatile region.

China has also criticized the decision to hold the event in “a disputed region” and decided to skip it.

“China firmly opposes holding any form of G20 meeting in disputed areas and will not attend such a meeting,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said last week.

According to official sources, Turkey and Saudi Arabia did not register for the meeting until late Sunday evening.

The official sources told EFE that China, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia skipped another G20 meeting last month in the cold-desert region of Ladakh.

Ladakh, which borders China, was part of the erstwhile state of Kashmir before India ended its special status and divided the region into two federally-ruled territories.

Fernand de Varennes, UN’s special rapporteur on minority issues, also accused the G20 countries of “unwittingly” supporting the “facade of normalcy” in Kashmir with their participation.

“By holding a G20 meeting, the government of India is seeking to normalize what some have described as a military occupation,” the rapporteur said last week.

India defended the move, saying it remained its “prerogative to host meetings in any part of the country.”

Opposition politicians also accuse the government of hiding facts in Kashmir behind the facade created for the event.

“Hundreds of people have been detained ahead of the meeting,” said Mehbooba Mufti, the region’s last elected chief minister.

Police argued there was a “need to enhance the security measures at vulnerable locations to avoid any chance of terrorist attack during the G20” meeting.

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