Speaking to Pakistani journalists in Goa where he was attending the Conference of Foreign Ministers of SCO, Pakistan’s foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari issued a thinly veiled threat to the host country India.
Responding to a question on the Pakistani stand on the G20 meeting on tourism in Srinagar in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, Zardari declared that “when the time is right we shall give a befitting reply which India will never forget.”
A couple of weeks earlier, the Pakistan foreign office had officially condemned the Indian decision to hold a G20 meeting in Srinagar. There were also reports that Pakistani diplomacy was going to go into an overdrive to campaign against holding of this meeting in Kashmir.
Earlier, Pakistan had tried to block the G20 meetings in Jammu city in the Union Territory. But that effort fizzled out. Clearly, Pakistan believed that it couldn’t allow the same to happen to its campaign against the Srinagar meeting. For an Islamic State like Pakistan, Muslim majority Srinagar is far more critical than Hindu dominated Jammu and it would pull out all stops to deny, disrupt and sabotage this meeting.
That Pakistan is rattled by India hosting a G20 meeting in Kashmir is quite apparent. Pakistan thinks that if this meeting takes place, it will deal a body blow to its claims that Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed area. While India will gain international legitimacy on Kashmir, Pakistan will lose its case if the 20 most developed economies meet in Srinagar because it will be tantamount to putting a de facto seal of approval over Indian claims on the ‘disputed’ region.
Not surprisingly, Pakistan is hoping to convince some of its friends in G20 – China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Indonesia – to boycott the Srinagar meeting in solidarity with Pakistan. But until now, except for China which skipped the meeting in Arunachal Pradesh, and perhaps Turkey, none of the other countries have indicated any reservations about going to Srinagar.
The noise coming out of Pakistan really doesn’t make any sense. It isn’t as if representatives of foreign countries haven’t travelled to Jammu and Kashmir in the past. In fact diplomats from different countries have gone to J&K on their own and as part of delegations facilitated by the Indian government. Incidentally, similar tours have taken place on the Pakistan-occupied parts of the territory.
Foreign tourists, journalists and even investors have been visiting the Kashmir valley. Recently an investors conference was held in which both UAE and Saudi Arabia participated. In fact, the UAE has unveiled ambitious plans for investing in the Union Territory. Investors from other countries have also shown interest in becoming part of the growth story in Jammu and Kashmir. Clearly, Pakistan’s protestations are quite meaningless and mendacious.
The bottom-line is that India doesn’t need the stamp of G20 to justify her claim on J&K. That claim is well-established and well-accepted, more so after the constitutional reforms of 2019 in the erstwhile state. The G20 meeting is being held in Srinagar not because India wants to cock a snook at Pakistan, but because Kashmir is a part of India.
If similar meetings are being held in each and every state and Union Territory of India, then they will also be held in Jammu and Kashmir. Just because Pakistan has a fictitious claim on the territory, there is no reason for India to kowtow to Pakistan’s demands. In any case, there can be no place more appropriate to hold a meeting on tourism than a tourism paradise like Kashmir.
Unfortunately, for nearly three decades, Kashmir has been a tragic victim of Jihadist terrorism sponsored and supported by Pakistan. It lost its place as the jewel in India’s tourism map because of the violence that Pakistani agent provocateurs unleashed in the region. Only in the last couple of years has Kashmir once again become a haven for tourists. Record numbers of Indian and foreign tourists have been going to the Union Territory. It is difficult to find a hotel room in the Valley.
Meanwhile, the tourism boom has led to new hotels coming up. Locals have set up top class B&Bs. Local entrepreneurs – hoteliers, tour operators, craftsmen, restauranteurs, cafes, retailers, you name it – have been profiting from the revival of tourism, which itself is a function of the restoration of normalcy in the Valley.
For India, G20 is an excellent opportunity for showcasing the return of normalcy in Kashmir. The fake news, narrative and propaganda on Kashmir being peddled by countries like Pakistan under the tutelage and guidance of Turkey is best busted by allowing, even encouraging, foreign tourists to travel to the proverbial ‘Heaven on Earth’. No amount of advertising or publicity campaigns to convince people to travel to Kashmir are as effective as accounts of travellers who have witnessed first-hand the change that has come in the Union Territory.
Except for citizens and reports of hostile countries like Pakistan, China and Turkey, there should be absolutely no restrictions on foreign media from going to and reporting from Kashmir. There will always be some reports who will look for negative stories and file what can be called ‘drain inspector’s reports’.
These reporters will look for stories that reinforce their prejudice, bias and agenda against India. But there will be many more reporters who will go with an open mind and report what is an objective reality of the situation in Kashmir. They will see the positive energy in Jammu and Kashmir, the development that is taking place, the mainstreaming that is being encouraged and promoted.
The G20 is only the start of this process. Conferencing in Kashmir is now becoming a thing and will only grow. Pakistan will of course do its damnedest best to undermine and sabotage the progress that is visible in the Valley. The only images coming out of Kashmir that Pakistan wants to see is of death, destruction and desolation. That is the reason why Pakistani media often airs footage from years ago to plug the fake narrative of a Kashmir that is burning. But fakery has a shelf-life and Pakistan’s efforts to stall the return of normalcy in Kashmir is way past its sell-by date.