Other countries must follow Germany in revising their travel advisories on Kashmir.
When the German Ambassador to India, Thomas Matussek had visited Kashmir last month, he had promised that Germany will reconsider adverse travel advisory for its citizens on Kashmir. Since Pakistan-sponsored militancy broke out in Kashmir two decades ago, most western countries have issued an advisory to their citizens, asking them not to visit Kashmir valley.
After his meeting with the German Ambassador on June 24th, Jammu & Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah had tweeted:
This is the first time any envoy has held out such an assurance. That’s a very big deal for us, regardless of how long it takes.[Link]
Firstly, no one had then taken the German Ambassador’s promise seriously. In fact, it was soon forgotten among the din that characterises Indian discourse on Kashmir.
Secondly, even if the review was to take place, no one expected the travel advisory to be reviewed so quickly.
Thus it came as a rather pleasant surprise when it was announced today that the Federal Foreign Office (FFO) of Germany has revised the travel advisory to its nationals visiting the Kashmir valley, Jammu region and Ladakh.
The significant revision in the advisory regarding Kashmir gave an overview of the security situation in the valley and clarified that the situation had now calmed down considerably and said, ”foreigners are generally not direct targets of clashes.” Regarding Jammu, the new advisory stated that the region was basically stable, though the situation might change and travellers were advised to obtain information regarding the security situation prior to their visit.[Link]
This is a very positive piece of news for Kashmir and Kashmiris. The economy of Kashmir is dependent on tourism, which contributes over 10% to the state’s GDP. The foreign tourist visits to the Valley have remained abysmally low during the last twenty years, drastically dwindling from 59,938 in 1998 to 22,000 in 2008, a decrease of 63.3%.
As reported in the media, there were no hotel rooms available in Kashmir this year during the months of May and June. Due to school vacations, Indian tourists frequent Kashmir during those months. The foreign tourists used to visit Kashmir in July and August. Low foreign tourist arrivals mean that the hotels run at barely half occupancy during the months of July and August now. This trend needs to be reversed.
If the government of India pursues this case, other Western governments could emulate Germany and revise their travel advisories for Kashmir. That single step would contribute in greater measure to Kashmiri economy than any government programme designed to help the Kashmiris.
P.S. – Let us not expect Pakistan to help Kashmir in any way here. J&K CM Omar Abdullah just tweeted:
Srinagar’s only international flight was stopped because Pakistan didn’t allow overflight & yet they claim to be Kashmiris’ sympathisers.[Link]