India Projects Image of Normalcy From Kashmir
The region will host a G-20 meeting next month, but repression persists since New Delhi revoked its semi-autonomy in 2019.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s South Asia Brief.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s South Asia Brief.
The highlights this week: India plans to host a G-20 meeting in Kashmir next month, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina blasts the United States in a parliamentary speech, and the Adani Group shows that it is not letting fraud allegations get in the way of its energy investments.
India Brings the G-20 to Kashmir
India recently released a list of upcoming G-20 meetings it will host as this year’s president of the group of top economies. The list includes a tourism working group meeting in Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir, in May. The meeting will mark the first major international event in the disputed region since August 2019, when India revoked Indian-administered Kashmir’s special autonomous status.
By hosting the meeting in Srinagar, India likely aims to highlight its rich geographic diversity. It held G-20 tourism meetings in the states of Gujarat and West Bengal earlier this year and has scheduled another in the state of Goa in June. But New Delhi also probably wants to signal that Indian-administered Kashmir is stable, peaceful, and ready to engage with the world after the 2019 decision.
Taken at face value, some recent developments suggest a return to normalcy in Kashmir. Militant violence has subsided, although the Hindu minority has suffered a recent spate of deadly attacks. Tourism figures for Jammu and Kashmir, one of two Indian union territories in the region, broke records last year, although the tourism is mostly domestic. Investors are coming, too. In March, an Emirati property company announced a $60 million project to build a shopping mall and offices in Srinagar. Direct air corridors are reemerging.
However, by other measures, little has changed. In the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, public anger with New Delhi remains rife. The region remains heavily militarized, with continuing crackdowns on the right to protest and freedom of speech. One Kashmiri contact, who requested anonymity out of concern for their safety, said that India’s G-20 meeting in Srinagar is just an “attempt to fake normalcy.”
Press restrictions in Indian-administered Kashmir are especially draconian. The space for media has “drastically eroded” since 2019, one Kashmiri journalist told me. Newspapers are reduced to “extensions of the government’s PR department,” another said. A source confirmed that Thursday marked the beginning of the trial of journalist Fahad Shah, editor of the Kashmir Walla and a previous FP contributor. Shah was arrested on terrorism charges in February 2022 for publishing what police described as “anti-national” material and faces potential life imprisonment if convicted.
Kashmiris are also grappling with electoral uncertainty. Jammu and Kashmir hasn’t had elections since 2014. India’s Election Commission may visit the territory this month; ruling Bharatiya Janata Party leaders say they are ready for elections, but they have not provided a timetable. With six state elections between May and the end of the year, India may want to wait—perhaps until national elections, which are expected to be held by May 2024.
Despite all this, relatively little of the world’s attention focuses on Kashmir today. When it does, it’s increasingly seen through a lens of opportunity. Foreign investors are coming, international flights are returning, and G-20 delegations will soon visit. UNESCO has even added Srinagar to its Creative Cities Network. In the global eye, Kashmir is seemingly returning to normalcy. And that’s exactly what New Delhi wants.
What We’re Following
Bangladesh PM slams United States. In a jarringly critical speech in Parliament on Monday, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina lambasted U.S. policy in the country and indirectly accused Washington of orchestrating regime change. She criticized the Biden administration for its comments about democracy and human rights in Bangladesh, saying, “They are trying to eliminate democracy and introduce a government that will not have a democratic existence.”
The Biden administration has often expressed concerns about democratic backsliding in Bangladesh, rankling officials in Dhaka. Tensions soared last December, when protesters harassed U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas after he met with the sister of an opposition leader allegedly targeted by the government. Bangladesh likely felt snubbed when it wasn’t invited to the White House democracy summit last month; it was excluded from the first summit in 2021, too.
Hasina’s comments were likely intended largely for political effect in a country where many people perceive U.S. policies and rhetoric as overstepping. The public criticism didn’t affect a pre-scheduled meeting between Bangladeshi Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington the same day. Still, with the United States hoping to bolster ties with Bangladesh and push back against China’s footprint there, the issue threatens to become a sore spot.
Adani’s Bangladesh energy venture. Indian businessman Gautam Adani may be a tainted titan after his conglomerate was accused of massive fraud in January. But that hasn’t stopped him from keeping up a busy investment portfolio in South Asia. Last weekend, Adani Power Limited, a subsidiary of Adani Group, announced plans for a thermal power plant in India’s Jharkhand state that will provide electricity for Bangladesh. The project could bring a much-needed energy security boost to Bangladesh, which has experienced periodic power outages in recent months.
The deal comes on the heels of an announcement that another Adani Group subsidiary will work with India’s Reliance Industries to develop renewable energy in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. This accord allows the Adani Group to show it won’t let the fraud allegations deter its investments. It also highlights its commitment to diversify its energy investments with more focus on renewables—which dovetails nicely with New Delhi’s own climate goals (likely no coincidence).
Pakistan’s finance minister skips D.C. Pakistani Finance Minister Ishaq Dar declined to travel to Washington for this week’s World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) spring meetings. He said he didn’t go because of political turmoil in Pakistan. But one reason behind the turmoil is Islamabad’s inability to reach a deal with the IMF to unlock $1.1 billion in funds to ease its economic crisis. One might have expected Dar to seek any possible meeting with IMF officials.
Dar said he would participate in meetings virtually, and a lower-level Pakistani delegation is visiting Washington. Ultimately, Pakistan may have feared that Dar would struggle to meet with IMF officials; its government has frustrated the institution with its refusal to firmly commit to IMF conditions.
As the World Bank and IMF hold spring meetings, Devesh Kapur argues in Foreign Policy that without a creative solution, the World Bank doesn’t have the resources to do justice to both climate change and national development programs in its lending.
Under the Radar
For weeks, Indian authorities have been searching for Amritpal Singh, a separatist Sikh preacher. The manhunt began in the state of Punjab, where Singh is based, but officials suspect he may have fled the state, traveling to neighboring Haryana, New Delhi, or even Nepal. Late last month, Nepali reports suggested that Indian diplomats in Kathmandu had warned officials that Singh was already in the country. But authorities in Nepal said they had no record of him there. Singh has been put on a surveillance list in Nepal.
Tracking down Singh is a top priority for India, in part because staying on the run could galvanize his supporters in the Sikh diaspora. In March, Sikh protesters vandalized Indian diplomatic facilities in the United States and the United Kingdom. This week, Indian officials rejected a report that New Delhi has suspended trade talks with the British government until it condemns the group responsible for an attack on India’s High Commission in London last month.
FP’s Most Read This Week
• The Real Motivation Behind Iran’s Deal With Saudi Arabia by Saeid Golkar and Kasra Aarabi
• Crimea Has Become a Frankenstein’s Monster by Anatol Lieven
• Ukraine’s Leopard Tank Crews Are Trained and Ready to Fight by Elisabeth Braw
In Dawn, development professional Samia Liaquat Ali Khan warns that Pakistan is on the verge of a major food crisis due to worsening economic conditions and flood-induced crop losses. “We need to realize that the threat of hunger is fast becoming a reality for millions of our fellow citizens,” she writes.
Journalist Jyoti Malhotra writes in the Print that New Delhi must balance its tough talk against China with the need to keep up important commercial links. “Indian traders are exporting vast quantities of raw material [to China] and loving the business it generates,” she notes.
A Daily Mirror editorial laments that some of Sri Lanka’s policies risk causing people to lose faith in the country’s justice system. “There is always a danger of politicians and powerful people conniving with unscrupulous elements … to manipulate the law, in the absence of post-verdict actions to [mete] out justice for the victims,” it argues.
Michael Kugelman is the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly South Asia Brief. He is the director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington. Twitter: @michaelkugelman
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