Bringing Kashmir to the world tourism map

G20 delegates enjoy shikara ride (Photo: PTI)

Pakistan tried its utmost to scuttle the holding of the G-20 Tourism session in Kashmir from 22 – 24 May. Islamabad sent letters to several member countries of G-20 to advise their representatives to abstain from the Kashmir tourism meet. Pakistani embassies abroad frantically tried to dissuade the member states from participating. Three member countries, namely China, Turkey, and  Saudi Arabia decided not to participate.

The refusal of China and Turkey was expected but not that of Saudi Arabia. Looking closely at the history of Sino-Indian strained relations, we can say that China declined to participate not to appease Pakistan but to avoid the embarrassment it would have to face if somehow the illegal occupation of  China of large chunks of the territories of the original State of Jammu and Kashmir were mentioned. Additionally, it is reported by dependable sources that under the pretext of building the Karakorum Highway a sizeable force of PLA in the garb of engineers and labourers are stationed in and around Gilgit.

Turkey had a reason to decline participation. Erdogan is pandering to pan-Islamism to be in the seat of power for the third time. For quite some time he has been trying to project the historic Ottoman power not by reviving the memory of Kemal Ataturk and his secularist disposition but by pandering to Islamism that easily sells in the radicalised segments at home and abroad.

This said the question that Pakistan and Turkey should answer is this. Kashmir is a world-renowned tourist destination. Tourism is an important mainstay of the Kashmir economy and thousands of families are directly or indirectly connected with the industry. The government did not arrange the meeting of the G-20 tourism in Kashmir to politicise the Kashmir issue and win the approval of the G-20 members that they endorse Kashmir’s accession to the Indian Union as has been vehemently propagated by Pakistan. The main motivation of the government was to bring Kashmir onto the global tourism map so that a big boost is given to the industry. It was aimed at bringing more prosperity to the people of the valley.

So far Kashmir tourism prospers domestically. It is reported that nearly 1.5 crore people from within the country came as tourists during 2022. But the number of foreign tourists is not more than a few hundred. The government is interested in encouraging world tourism in Kashmir because that would give a new and healthy turn to the entire industry which, otherwise, is mired in outdated patterns of entertaining the tourists. With a promise of international tourism, there would be numerous activities taken for raising the standard to compete with world-class tourism. Infrastructure, roads, tourist huts, new destinations, hotels, private accommodation, recreational facilities like hiking, skiing, golf, research in flora and fauna, handicrafts and art manufacturing,  etc., so many areas would receive a great fillip. Kashmir lakes and springs, meadows and parks would get a new shape. Kashmir culture, lifestyle and social interaction would have come closer to modern trends without losing originality. In short, it would help Kashmir step into the modernity of this century.

All this was meant for the people, society and environment of Kashmir. Now if countries like Pakistan and Turkey hold the Islamic cause close to their heart, should they have supported or opposed a phenomenon that was bound to bring immense prosperity to Kashmir Valley which has a hundred per cent population of the Muslim community? If these countries were sincere in their concerns for the Muslims they would not have opposed the holding of the G-20 meeting in Kashmir but supported it and suggested measures that would ensure full support to the tourism industry in Kashmir. Alas, they only betrayed their anger against and hatred for India which was doing a good job in lifting the people of Kashmir to economic emancipation.

For the last two years, Turkey has openly adopted an anti-India attitude toward Kashmir. Erdogan has been maligning India in his addresses to the UN. He has political aggrandizement in taking an anti-India stance on Kashmir. It is less to appease Pakistan and more to win status as a staunch Pan-Islamist in the Islamic World. He is eager to take precedence as an Islamic icon over the Saudis. India is a soft corner and Kashmir is an issue on the agenda of the UNSC. We have nothing to say about why Erdogan is pandering to Pan-Islamism. It is his discretion. But we would have liked it very much if he had read the true story of the Kashmir dispute which began on 22 October 1947 with Pakistan’s incursion on Kashmir. As a politician dabbling in international affairs, it is expected of him to know the true history and then frame the outlines of his foreign policy.

For example, we fully know the history of Turkey under Kemal Ataturk and we feel proud that a great Asian leader represented very amply the aspirations of all communities in his country and the Islamic world. We would remind President Erdogan that when the Khilafat Movement was underway at the beginning of the 20th century, Gandhiji gave a call for support to the movement as he thought Turkey was fighting for the right cause. Similarly, we expect President Erdogan to rise above sectarian or factional politics and look at things from the glasses of a seasoned statesman.

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