The world is watching Kashmir’s preparation for the G20 meeting in Srinagar next week.
It is once in a life time opportunity for Kashmir to showcase its vibrant hospitality and look forward to future through lens of promise and hope .
That the Valley is beautiful and perfect setting for such a meet goes without saying. Kashmir, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has hailed it time and again as “jewel in the crown of India”.
The UT administration led by Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, is trying to present a picture perfect of Kashmir. The delegates from the G20, including P-5, will have the opportunity to see for themselves the Kashmir of 2023. It was unimaginable to think, the delegates must have analyzed it for themselves too, that Kashmir could be a place for an international event of such high value and profile not long ago. The reasons are well known.
Let it be said that diplomats are trained to decipher beyond the visible. The optics of clean waters of Dal Lake, which the delegates cannot escape watching, for Srinagar sans the lake is inconceivable, has its own story to tell.
The lake’s transformation to clean shimmering waters from the days when it was clogged by weeds is symbolic of wider change that has taken place in Kashmir.
It was not that clean few years ago. They also will not miss the hoardings and graffiti welcoming them to Srinagar- the smart city in making . It is work in progress, literally and figuratively.
As one hears the officials and some echo on the ground, the hope is that with this meeting Kashmir’s tourism will get Bourn Vita boost.
The delegates would see futility of the adverse advisories that some of the countries have issued against visiting Kashmir.
Some of the western countries continue to live in old mindset. it is necessary to open their eyes to the new realities, and what better way it could be than to allow them to see things for themselves – compare with their old perceptions and the real time change that has come to define the place and the people.
Getting foreign tourists, the number of whom was 89,000 plus in 1988 – the last most peaceful year in Kashmir – in itself helps building an international image of the beautiful land where hospitality flows in abundance. For many years, Kashmir has been a victim of image problem. Some of the fault lines which smeared the image of Kashmir, continue to persist.
Within the nation too, the G20 meet will advance a message that the things have changed for better. The nation should have confidence in its own territories, where the term integral has greater connotation than the dictionary meaning.
The repetitive use of this term, before and after the abrogation of Article 370 - that did away with the specials status and semi-autonomous status of the erstwhile state - needs to be understood in proper perspective. In literature and political narratives, repetition has its own life.
Once a particular reality has been established, there is little scope for reiterating the same. And also, once the world has recognized the Indian position on Kashmir, this phrase of “integral part” assumes more respectable connotation.
Diplomacy and politics have their own parameters in determining the status, especially when it is rooted in the history. There is a geopolitical reality; Jammu and Kashmir became an integral part of India with the last Dogra king Maharaja Hari Singh signing the instrument of accession on October 26, 1947.
It was endorsed by an overwhelming majority in Kashmir led by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. These are pious facts of history and as valid and relevant as the heroic role of the Indian army in defending J&K against Pakistani invaders.
The army had recaptured most of the territory from Pakistani army. The integral part assertion is made in response to Pakistan questioning Kashmir’s status all the time. The doubters and those seeking to present an alternative narrative need to be silenced.
Are we hosting G20 meet to tell Pakistan what all we have accomplished and seek more accomplishment in this part of India? This question needs a fair answer.
It lies in the fact when the world is descending onto Kashmir supporting and endorsing Indian stand, why should Pakistan be brought into picture. The thesis that the event would be a befitting reply to enemies (read Pakistan and some disgruntled elements within) , doesn’t serve the bigger picture which is intended at the end of the meet. This is realistic way of looking at things.
The international event speaks itself for the global influence and respect that India has. The growth of its economy is recognized by the world. Its political stability and unhindered flow of democracy inspire many countries in the world.
The world is aware of what is happening on the other side of our western border; army and opposition leadership are engaged in a war of words on one side, on the other, government and judiciary are berating each other. The poor are struggling to make two ends meet, and the IMF has almost been elevated to demigod status. Pakistan is not on brink, it is hanging on to cliff to survive.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Zardari Bhutto is going to be in PoJK on the day when G20 tourism working group meet opens in Srinagar. This is sheer political and diplomatic immaturity – Bilawal doesn’t know what harikari he is committing for himself and Pakistan. The conditions in Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir present a mirror image of the mainland Pakistan. Rather worse, PoJK has been training centre of terrorists. The residents there have often risen in revolt but their protests were suppressed by Pakistan army.
The PoJK residents, I am sure, will have questions for Pakistani leadership. Jammu and Kashmir is hosting an unprecedented international event, while they were struggling to survive. Why this difference? The Pakistani leadership that is looking toward “friendly countries”- China, UAE and Saudi Arabia for loan to survive, is having no answers.
Bilawal’s visit to PoJK will spotlight the difference between the two sides of the LoC or Line of Control that divides the Himalayan territory between India and Pakistan. Kashmir, on this side is marching ahead and looking forward to greater opportunities and development, while PoJK is being fed on illusions.
Pakistan will get its own message whether we say it or keep quiet. Sometimes silence is more eloquent than words. It, however, doesn’t mean that guard should be lowered. The delegates and tourists are our guests, and it is our bounden duty to make them feel at home and safe.
The welcoming graffiti and gestures need to be supplemented by creating an atmosphere in which the visitors feel secure without having to look over their shoulders.
The whole of Kashmir has stakes in the event. The land and the people have been trusted by the Government. That’s why Srinagar is among one of the Indian cities to host G 20 meet. Some steps are required to confer the ownership rights and responsibility to the people to make G 20 event a grand success. The political, social, business groups should be taken on board, as the stakes travel beyond May 22-24. It is a unique moment, there should be uniqueness on display with participation from all quarters. This is a rare opportunity, and all of us must seize it .
(Arun Joshi is author of “ Eyewitness Kashmir: Teetering on Nuclear War,” and writes on strategic affairs and geopolitics of South Asia and China)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.