India showcases scenic Kashmir to G20 countries, hoping to woo foreign tourists


Srinagar (Reuters) – India began showcasing the Himalayan region of Kashmir to tourism officials of G20 countries on Tuesday, hoping to attract foreign visitors to the picture-postcard territory troubled by a three-decade Islamist insurgency.

The federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir has been roiled by militant violence since 1989, disrupting a thriving tourism sector in a region called the “Switzerland of India” for its snow-capped mountains, lush meadows, tulip gardens and lakes.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed although the violence has tapered off in recent years and domestic tourism has boomed.

Federal Tourism Minister G. Kishan Reddy said a record 18.4 million tourists visited Kashmir in 2022 and the government was expecting that number to strongly grow and include more foreign visitors.

Kashmir tourism officials said the 2022 number included only 20,000 foreign visitors, mostly from Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan, and that the focus was now to attract tourists from Europe.

“For the last 30 years, this land of peaceful co-existence of almost all religions had to suffer state-sponsored terrorism by our neighbouring country,” Manoj Sinha, Jammu and Kashmir’s chief administrator, told the opening of the G20 tourism working group meeting in Srinagar, the summer capital of the territory.

However, the federal government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “isolated the terror eco-system”, Sinha told the meeting, which was organised under stringent security.

India blames arch-rival Pakistan for the insurgency, a charge Pakistan denies.

Both nuclear-armed neighbours claim Kashmir in full, rule it in parts and have gone to war over it three times.

The G20 tourism meeting in Srinagar is part of a series of meetings India has organised across the country in the run-up to a summit in New Delhi in September.

Hundreds of people rallied in Pakistan-administered Kashmir on Monday to protest against India’s decision to host the meeting in the disputed region.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari visited Pakistan-administered Kashmir and termed the G20 gathering as illegal, and an attempt by India to seek legitimacy over its control of the disputed region.

Pakistan’s longtime ally China has opposed the tourism meeting and is not attending. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have only sent private tourism sector officials, organisers said.

India’s G20 “sherpa” Amitabh Kant said that the response to the meeting was overwhelming, with 60 foreign delegates taking part.

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