G20 meeting offer glimpse into changed lives in Kashmir

The ongoing G20 meeting in the city of Srinagar has given foreign dignitaries and observers a good opportunity to witness the ground realities of India-administered Kashmir. They can see and tell the world what has changed in Kashmir since revocation of the special status. The full integration of J&K with the rest of the country appears to have proven beneficial.

In 2022, record 18.4 million tourists visited Kashmir, which was the highest in past seven decades. The number of tourists from foreign countries too touched 20,000-figure. All this indicates normalcy has returned to the region, which is now almost free from militancy.

The Kashmir valley is peaceful now and witnessing different kinds of development activities. Commoners appear to be freed from the clutches of extremism, violence, and propaganda. India’s rivals Pakistan and China had warned of unrest and violence in Kashmir. However, things took a positive turn.

Michael Rubin, senior fellow with Washington-based The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), said he witnessed optimism and growing confidence in Indian-controlled Kashmir. He visited both parts of Kashmir—one under the jurisdiction of India and the other of Pakistan. “While Kashmiris under Pakistani control remain hobbled by a moribund economy and suppressed by Jamaat-e-Islami extremism, Kashmiris in India have security, taste freedom, and thrive,” Rubin said.

Farooq Wani, a political analyst from J&K, said the progress in development activities was visible now. “While only 9,229 projects had been completed in fiscal 2018-19, during 2021-22, this figure went up almost six times to a staggering 50,627,” he said. Premier health and technological institutions, youth skilling centres, and sport training centres are being established in Kashmir as the cancellation of the special status of J&K in 2019 allowed smooth funding and implementation.

The budgetary allocation for the J&K was USD 9.7 billion in 2018-19. It increased to USD 14 billion in 2022-23. There has been a significant increase in the allocations of government funds for humanitarian relief, crisis management, social infrastructure development, and economic infrastructure expansion in the J&K. Even international humanitarian and financial institutions are joining the hands for development of Kashmir. Asian Development Bank (ADB) has extended its support in the upgradation of civic and transport facilities in Kashmir.

The people of Kashmir responded positively to the steps taken by the government. J&K showed an “incremental” performance in Sustainable Development Goals of good health and well-being of people (India Index 2020-21). There has been momentum in business and commerce activities, which is reflected in a 30 per cent increase in tax collection in just one year. The youth is coming up with successful start-up ideas, which are set to fuel economic growth in the region.

The government of India has been offering incentives to attract foreign investment in J&K. The Kashmir Conclave is held in the US annually where discussions are held on how to bring comprehensive development in Kashmir, which focuses on investment in agriculture, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Carmen Montana, Mayor of California’s Milpitas City has assured support in establishing fruitful partnerships with businesses in J&K. Dubai’s Emaar group is set to make the investment of USD 60 million in Kashmir, which is expected to generate 7,000-8,000 job opportunities.

There has been a significant reduction in violence and clashes. In the first two years, a 34 per cent reduction was witnessed in militant activities while civilian deaths dipped by 90 per cent. Indian agencies including the army have been coming up with different policies and programmes to prevent the Kashmiri youth from joining terror activities. They are offering opportunities to militants to surrender and live a normal life.

Sher Khan had links with a terror outfit named Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI). He was influenced by the disinformation peddled by Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups. Khan quit the HuJI after realising Kashmiris were exploited by Pakistan for political gains. “After realizing that I was on the wrong path, I along with some other members of my group surrendered before security forces to live a peaceful life as a citizen of India,” he said.