A G20 tourism meeting began under tight security on Monday in Indian-administered Kashmir, as New Delhi strives to create an image of normalcy in a territory scarred by bloodshed for decades.
Both China and Pakistan have criticised the event’s location in the disputed Muslim-majority territory, which is divided between New Delhi and Islamabad, both of which claim full ownership.
Tens of thousands of civilians, troops, and rebels have been slaughtered in an insurgency demanding independence or merger with Pakistan throughout the years.
However, India wants to demonstrate that “normalcy and peace” are returning to the territory after New Delhi removed its limited autonomy and imposed direct control of the province in 2019, forcing a protracted lockdown.
Since then, the rebels have been largely subdued – though young men continue to pick up guns – and the annual death toll, which was once in the thousands, has been decreasing, with 253 fatalities last year.
With its beautiful mountain scenery and airport billboards proclaiming it “paradise on Earth,” India is now pushing tourism in the region.
Last year, over a million Indian citizens visited, much to the joy of local tourism firms.
However, opposition has been criminalized, media freedoms have been restricted, and public protests have been restricted, in what opponents believe is a dramatic reduction of civil liberties by New Delhi.
Last week, police announced that security had been tightened up “to avoid any possibility of a terrorist attack during the G20” conference, and soldiers and armored vehicles were stationed at numerous locations in Srinagar on Monday.
However, numerous checkpoints shrouded in metal mesh and barbed wire had been disassembled overnight, and some paramilitary police stood camouflaged behind G20 advertising panels in what appeared to be an effort to reduce the visibility of the security forces.
The People’s Anti-Fascist Front, a new insurgent group that arose in Kashmir after 2019, condemned the event and threatened to “deploy suicide bombers.”
“Today, tomorrow or day after. It will come,” it said.