The G20 Tourism Working Group (TWG) meeting in Kashmir, which took place from May 22 to 24, witnessed an overwhelming participation from 29 nations, including special invitees. China and Pakistan's attempts to disrupt the Srinagar meeting failed miserably.
While China officially "boycotted" the event, its lobbying efforts with other G20 member countries did not yield the expected response.
Beijing may have anticipated that other countries would share its opposition to the meeting. However, as the opposition weakened, there was possibly mounting pressure on China to prove its unwavering support for Pakistan on this issue. On the contrary, around 60 delegates from member states and international organisations attended the official meetings, along with several side events. Delegates and officials from G20 members, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the UK, the US, and the European Union, attended the events in Srinagar.
In recent weeks, Pakistan had intensified its propaganda centred around Kashmir since New Delhi announced the G20 meeting in Srinagar. It tried to generate a consensus among Islamic countries and G20 members through diplomatic channels in order to halt the meeting. Although Saudi Arabia did not send officials to attend the G20 event, a representative from its travel industry was present at the meeting.
Expectedly, Pakistan tried to exploit the non-attendance of an official representation from Saudi Arabia and Turkiye at the meeting. Additionally, Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, visited the occupied territories of Jammu and Kashmir from May 21 to 23 to "express solidarity with Kashmiris against India's decision to hold a G20 meeting" in Srinagar. However, his visit did little to internationalise Pakistan's anti-India narrative on the Kashmir issue, especially considering that Pakistan is not even a member of the G20.
The G20 TWG meet in Srinagar garnered significant attention from the international media, with many highlighting India's efforts to showcase the restoration of stability and normalcy in Kashmir. The Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are gaining popularity as international event and tourist destinations.
The Youth20 meeting, a part of the G20 initiative, took place on April 26 in Ladakh and attracted over 100 delegates from more than 30 countries. It has been reported that China made extensive efforts to lobby the participating youth organisations, urging them not to attend the Ladakh meeting, but these efforts were unsuccessful. Despite external pressures from unfriendly nations, India has so far achieved tremendous success in organising numerous official and side events related to the G20 agendas.
The Srinagar meeting was filled with excitement and enthusiasm, as delegates from different countries engaged in various activities. They danced to Bollywood songs, enjoyed boat rides on Dal Lake, visited famous tourist destinations, savoured local cuisines, and, of course, fulfilled their official commitments.
Moreover, a renowned Arab social media influencer named Amjad Taha shared a heart-warming vlog from Kashmir along with a message on Twitter. On May 20, he tweeted, "This is not Switzerland or Austria; this is India, and this is Kashmir, where the G20 will take place. It's known as the 'paradise on Earth', a place that has preserved its natural beauty and has the potential to be a solution for climate change. In Kashmir, we witness Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians coexisting peacefully, enjoying the diverse landscape, and contributing to global innovation and development for the future."
It is noteworthy that the G20 TWG meeting in Srinagar was one among several meetings that India has been hosting throughout the country, in various cities under its G20 presidency. This endeavour, undertaken by the Government of India, aims to bring the G20 presidency closer to the people as part of the Jan Bhagidari (people's participation) initiative.
The meeting successfully showcased not only Jammu and Kashmir's tourism potential but also the record increase in tourist arrivals since the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. Hence, the selection of Srinagar as the venue for this meeting was significant despite certain challenges, especially chances of Pakistan-sponsored terror attacks in the Kashmir valley. The draft for a "national strategy" on film tourism was unveiled at a session on the sidelines of the meeting.
Furthermore, there was also a side event on ecotourism, and a panel discussion focused on green tourism, digitalisation, skills, MSMEs, and destination management.
Despite numerous challenges, India has successfully convinced the international community that violence has reached its lowest levels in decades following the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019.
Pakistan's continuous attempts to generate consensus among Islamic countries regarding the Kashmir issue through propaganda have failed time and again. As security stability in Kashmir increases, foreign investors have shown interest in investing in major projects. In April, the United Arab Emirates-based Emaar Group announced a USD 60 million investment to construct a shopping and office complex in Srinagar. Official figures indicate that J&K received a record-breaking investment of USD 181 million in the first 10 months of the 2022-23 (April-March) fiscal year.
The successful G20 meeting and the improving economic indicators in J&K point towards a promising future for the region.
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