India’s has defended its decision to host a Group of 20 (G20) meeting in the Himalayan territory of Jammu and Kashmir, despite criticism from rights groups and expected boycotts from a handful of countries.
Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, is scheduled to host a tourism meeting for G20 members this week, in a move the Indian government has marketed as an opportunity to showcase the region’s culture.
It is the first international event of this scale to be held in the disputed, Muslim-majority region since India revoked its special status and split the former state into two federal territories in 2019. Ladakh, which was previously part of the state, was separated and turned into another standalone territory.
Ladakh is a disputed region along the Line of Actual Control, a de-facto border between India and China. Both countries claim parts of it.
China on Friday said it would not attend the meeting, citing its opposition “to holding any kind of G20 meetings in disputed territory,” according to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin.
Since a clash involving hand-to-hand fighting in 2020 claimed the lives of at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers, both sides have deployed thousands of troops to the area, where they remain in what appears to be a semi-permanent stand-off.
Tensions along the de factor border have been simmering for more than 60 years and have spilled over into war before. In 1962 a month-long conflict ended in a Chinese victory and India losing thousands of square miles of territory.
Other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, were expected to boycott the event.
Kashmir is one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints. Claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan, the mountainous region has been the epicenter for more than 70 years of an often violent territorial struggle between the nuclear-armed neighbors. A de facto border called the Line of Control divides it between New Delhi and Islamabad.
India said the move to revoke Kashmir’s semi-autonomy was to ensure the nation’s laws were equal for all citizens and to increase economic development in the region, as well as to end separatism and terrorism it alleged was aided and abetted by Pakistan.
On Saturday, India’s tourism secretary, Arvind Singh, said the meeting will not only to “showcase (Kashmir’s) potential for tourism” but also “signal globally the restoration of stability and normalcy in the region.”
In April, Pakistan, which is not a G20 member, criticized India’s decision to hold the tourism meeting in Kashmir, calling it an “irresponsible” move.
Last week, Fernand de Varennes, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, said the Indian government was “seeking to normalize what some have described as a military operation by instrumentalizing a G20 meeting” in a region where fears of human rights violations and violence are rife.
In a statement on Twitter, India’s permanent mission to Geneva rejected de Varennes’s criticism, calling the allegations “baseless and unwarranted.”
Earlier this month, India said the G20 meeting in Srinagar “aims to strengthen economic growth, preserve cultural heritage, and promote sustainable development of the region.”
India, the world’s largest democracy with a population of more than 1.4 billion, has been keen to position itself as a leader of emerging and developing nations since it assumed the G20 presidency.
Arguably India’s most celebrated event of the year, the G20 has been heavily promoted domestically, with sprawling billboards featuring Modi’s face plastered across the country.
Modi’s political allies were keen to push his international credentials, portraying him as a key player in the global order.