Despite India’s frantic attempts to create an image of “normalcy” in the disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, it would be hard for New Delhi to conceal crucial realities. The G20 issued a program of engagements for the summit taking place in India and additional activities across the globe, like the Youth-20 (Y20) meeting. Two events on the calendar were scheduled to take place in disputed areas, potentially stirring up regional tensions.
The first event was a so-called Y20 meeting on 26–28 April 2023 in the disputed territory of Leh, Ladakh. This event was planned to coincide with the third anniversary of the May 2020 border hostilities between India and China in Galwan Valley, Ladakh, just around 218.6 km away. The second event was the 3rd Tourism Working Group meeting on 22–24 May in Srinagar in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K). India organised this meeting approximately 142 km from the site of its so-called Balakot strikes in February 2019, which were suitably responded to by Pakistan.
These were provocative acts, as India not only planned to host talks in disputed territories but also chose venues near the sites of recent clashes with its neighbours. New Delhi perhaps hoped to bolster its illegal control of the areas but instead stoked more tensions with Pakistan and China. The terrible tragedies in IIOJ&K will not allow any sane observer to ignore India’s G20 presidency and activities scheduled in disputed territories. The unlawful and unilateral Indian actions concerning IIOJ&K on 5 August 2019 have increased the oppression of Kashmiris. The recent controversial events sought to divert global attention from the core issue of Kashmir and the Indian occupation of the territory without the consent of its people. India creates ambiguity around the matter and undermines the legitimacy of the Kashmiris’ demand for a plebiscite per the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.
The decision to hold multilateral events in disputed territories reflects the Indian intentions to keep fanning crises with its immediate neighbours instead of an approach of peaceful co-existence.
One must question whether the holder of the G20 Presidency comprehends and is willing to pursue the very purpose of this useful multilateral forum, which was established to improve global governance and institutional frameworks for handling the most pressing economic problems. The agenda has now been broadened to cover trade, sustainable development, health, agriculture, energy, environment, climate change, and anti-corruption. This vision can and must change the socioeconomic face of the member states and their regional setups in an unprecedented manner.
However, as the president of G20, from 1 December 2022 to 30 November 2023, India is perhaps more focused on utilising the opportunity for geopolitical gains rather than bringing economic advantage to this region. Hosting meetings near and in disputed territories has signalled this intention to border states which may lead to some pre-determined outcomes. It might also be seen as a diplomatic victory for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is anticipated to gain more support at home in the wake of upcoming elections.
Additionally, this behaviour illustrates how India abuses a multilateral forum to further its self-serving national agenda. Irrespective of the ongoing atrocities and attempts to change the demography in IIOJ&K, the G20 meeting was arranged to give the impression that Kashmir under the Indian administration is secure, tranquil, and prepared for engagement with the outside world. By other metrics, however, not much has changed.
There is a spectrum of reservations about the IIOJ&K, which need to be heard and noticed by the world. For instance, public resentment against Indian state-sponsored violence and extremism in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley is a significant issue. The basic freedom of expression and action continues to be severely restricted, and the region remains highly militarised. A Kashmiri source, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear for safety, stated that India is hosting the G-20 summit in Srinagar in an “attempt to fake normalcy”. In addition, the media’s freedom and access have relentlessly been curtailed in IIOJ&K, especially since the 2019 episode. Similar is the case of hosting the Y20 summit in Ladakh in April 2023. It is essential to seriously assess these actions as they affect regional peace and stability. China expressed reservations over the Indian mischief and withdrew from the gatherings in disputed areas of Arunachal Pradesh and Leh.
The decision to hold multilateral events in disputed territories reflects the Indian intentions to keep fanning crises with its immediate neighbours instead of an approach of peaceful co-existence. The so-called One Earth, One Family, One Future theme seems to be just a cover, as the above-mentioned moves suggest otherwise. India misused the opportunity to host summits. By hosting events in the disputed territories of Srinagar and Leh, not only a mischievous signal has been generated for Pakistan and China, but the international community, United Nations, and world peace advocates have also been openly challenged. This audacity defines the oppressive mentality of BJP-ruled India, which must be restrained to achieve the greater good for this region and the world.