Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir administration has made last-minute changes to the itinerary of foreign delegates who are visiting Srinagar for the third G-20 Tourism Working Group meeting starting Monday, May 21.
The sudden changes reflect the uncertainty in the security situation and will undermine the plans to use the international event being held at a convention centre on the banks of Srinagar’s iconic Dal Lake to showcase ‘normalcy’ in Jammu and Kashmir.
Intelligence agencies have reportedly warned of a possible terror attack targeting schools during the three-day event which has prompted the administration to order some schools in the Union Territory to remain closed till the event is over.
Since last week, security drills are being conducted by navy commandos on Dal Lake while the members of J&K Police’s elite anti-militancy unit, Special Operations Group, have been deployed perhaps for the first time to secure a civilian event.
Gulmarg, which was supposed to be one of the major highlights of the delegates’ visit to Kashmir Valley, has been dropped from the itinerary. The north Kashmir ski resort will not figure in the delegates’ itinerary due to “smaller number of participants” and “logistics issues,” Union Tourism Secretary Arvind Singh said in the national capital on Friday, May 19.
China is staying away from the meeting with its foreign ministry spokesperson saying that the country “strongly” opposes the decision to hold a G-20 meeting in “disputed territory”. Turkey has also boycotted the event, despite India’s ‘Operation Dost’ olive branch during its recent earthquake, while Saudi Arabia has reportedly scaled down its participation in the Srinagar meeting.
The move comes after authorities cancelled the plan to take the visiting delegates to Dachigam National Park situated on the outskirts of Srinagar city which is home to the critically endangered Hangul, leopard and other exotic wild species.
There was no explanation from J&K administration which had gone on an overdrive to dress up the 51-km road from Srinagar city to Gulmarg, where the international delegates were expected to take a gondola ride to Mount Apharwat.
The north Kashmir region, where Gulmarg is located, has seen an uptick in militant activities in recent weeks. Earlier this month, four militants were gunned down in two encounters in north Kashmir’s Kupwara and Baramulla districts.
Kashmir police chief Vijay Kumar didn’t respond to questions on whether security concerns led to the cancellation of the visit.
About 60 foreign delegates are expected to attend the third G-20 Tourism Working Group meeting in Srinagar which has been shadowed by an escalation in attacks against security forces. The uptick in violence has forced the administration to restrict the movement of the visitors to parts of Srinagar only.
In the run up to the event, violence has spiked in Jammu and Kashmir with at least 10 Army soldiers and seven civilians killed in attacks by militants this year. Four militants have also been gunned down this month.
In Jammu division, where most of the casualties were reported, security has been stepped up, especially in Pir Panjal districts of Poonch and Rajouri which have turned into an epicentre of militancy in the Hindu-majority region in recent months.
Witnesses said that commuters using the historic Mughal Road to shuffle between Pir Panchal and Kashmir Valley have to go through a long queue at an Army checkpoint in Poshana of Poonch district where they are photographed along with their identity cards and vehicles.
“I have been waiting in the queue for an hour now. At times, their computer doesn’t work which only increases the wait time. People are going through a lot of inconvenience,” said Majid Ahmad, a shepherd.
To prevent any disruption, authorities have asked some mainstream politicians and members of Kashmir’s minority communities to keep a low profile till the event concludes while an FIR has been filed after several J&K residents complained of calls from international numbers asking them to disrupt the G-20 event.
“Numerous individuals reported receiving automated calls on their phones urging them to block the Srinagar International Airport and halt the G20 summit. We have taken cognisance and registered FIR and also issued an advisory to the people,” a police spokesperson said.
In the city centre Srinagar, parts of which have got a major makeover under Smart City Mission, authorities have asked the shopkeepers to open early and close their business establishments late in the evening during the three day event.
“I was surprised when a senior police officer shared his mobile phone number and asked me to call him if I faced any difficulties,” said a shoe store owner in Lal Chowk, wishing anonymity for fear of reprisal by authorities.
Since the last two months, the National Investigations Agency and the State Investigation Agency of J&K have carried out dozens of raids across Jammu and Kashmir in connection with terror funding and other militancy related cases.
Hundreds of people have been detained ahead of the meeting, according to former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, while an unprecedented security cover has been thrown around SKICC, a convention centre flanked by Dal Lake, which will host the three-day event.
The G20 is an inter-governmental forum of world’s 20 leading economies comprising Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States, and the European Union.