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UAE investment in Indian-administered Kashmir a 'complete betrayal'

With Emirati company Emaar investing in Indian Kashmir, activists fear that Delhi's soft power and economic muscle are going to see the Kashmiri cause sidelined by Arab states
An Indian activist in Srinagar on 15 August 2022 (AFP)
An Indian activist in Srinagar on 15 August 2022 (AFP)
By Sal Ahmed in Karachi, Pakistan

News of the Emirati property company Emaar investing in Indian-administered Kashmir has been branded a "complete betrayal" by activists and Kashmiris in the region and abroad.

Many believe Kashmir is set to meet a fate similar to Palestine's, with some Arab and Islamic countries withdrawing their support for the Muslim population's cause in order to build better economic and diplomatic relations with India.

In March, Emaar's chief executive in India revealed plans to build a shopping mall and an office complex in Srinagar, capital of the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir region. Amit Jain said that the investment worth $60m would generate around 7,000 to 8,000 jobs. 

Speaking on behalf of the Indian government, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said the announcement marked a "historic day" for Kashmir and that "business leaders from the UAE have been invited to invest in J&K and become 'partners'".

The Kashmir region is divided between areas administered by India, Pakistan and China and has been fought over since the partition of India by the British Empire in 1947.

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The Indian government stands accused of thousands of gross human rights violations and extrajudicial killings in the region, with allegations of brutally suppressing a decades-long freedom struggle by Kashmiris.

Indian soft power

Kashmiri rights campaigner Ershad Mehmood, executive director at the Centre for Peace, Development and Reforms, based in Islamabad, told Middle East Eye: "I am in absolute shock. This is a complete betrayal of the people of Indian-occupied Kashmir and their struggle.

"They shouldn't have done this. This completely strengthens India's stance, it recognises Kashmir as Indian territory and completely whitewashes our struggle," he said. "The UAE has just sent a message to the people of Kashmir that it doesn't care about their rights and aspirations."

'The message India is trying to convey to the Kashmiris is that nobody is with you - even the UAE is investing with us'

Altaf Hussain, Kashmir Institute of International Relations

Another campaigner, Altaf Hussain, who manages the Kashmir Institute of International Relations, said that "the message India is trying to convey to the Kashmiris is that nobody is with you - even the UAE is investing with us. They want to project this as a negative impact on the Kashmiri struggle".

Hussain emphasised that there was no peace in Jammu and Kashmir and that India "has on its hands a long list of human rights violations".

Emirati investment in Indian-controlled Kashmir is an example of Indian soft power and a warning to the Arab world, said Fahim Kayani of Kashmir Campaign UK.

"India has made big inroads in Gulf nations… so now if the UAE has shown interest in investment in Kashmir it's because of the so-called soft power of India in the Arab world," Kayani told MEE.

"This is a big issue not just for Muslims but for humanity, as India is ruled by an ideology that does not see non-Hindus as equals. Better the Arab world understands it sooner," he said.

'Courting controversy'

Indian human rights violations in Kashmir have made international investment highly controversial.

Just after Emaar's announcement last month, UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor appealed to the Indian authorities to stop the latest attacks on human rights activists in Jammu and Kashmir.

Referring to the recent crackdown by Indian authorities on a coalition of civil society organisations, Lawlor said: "The Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society carries out essential work monitoring human rights. Their research and analysis of human rights violations are of huge value, including to international organisations seeking to ensure accountability and non-repetition of abuses."

India is also in violation of UN resolutions on holding an independence plebiscite in the region and the withdrawal of 600,000 Indian soldiers currently based in Jammu and Kashmir.

Andreas Krieg, associate professor in Security Studies at Kings College London, says the UAE-India relationship is deeply strategic for both countries and therefore courting controversy by investing in Kashmir comes with negligible reputational damage.

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"The UAE set a trend with moving early and recognising Israel. They thought that by the time the rest of the Arab and Muslim world comes around to recognising Israel, the UAE would have established strong relations with Israel and would act as an agent of sorts, therefore consolidating its position as a regional power. That's what they're doing with Kashmir and India," Krieg said.

"Both India and the UAE are in each other's top three trading partners. The relationship has fast become very strategic. The UAE is advancing its interests in India through the building of relationships based on trade, investments and corporate interests."

However, this is not the first time the UAE has courted controversy over Kashmir. In August 2019, after India repealed the famed Article 370 from its constitution, taking away Kashmir's special status, the UAE did not condemn the action. 

Kashmir's special status allowed the local government to make its own rules relating to permanent residency, ownership of property and fundamental rights. By taking away Kashmir's autonomy, critics suggest, the Indian federal government is trying to change the ethnic makeup of the region.

"By allowing unchecked migration into Kashmir, the Indian government wants to change the ethnic makeup, in case there is a plebiscite in the future. The Kashmiri vote for independence from India would be greatly weakened," said Hussain. 

Just days after the UAE refused to condemn the decision, Abu Dhabi conferred the government's highest civilian award on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"The UAE is fully aware that Pakistan would be unhappy with its posturing towards India, but the UAE is setting a new trend of leading the way and wants to become a middle regional power," Krieg said.

"It has calculated the reputational damage this will cause in the Muslim bloc and with Pakistan, but it reckons the damage will probably be minor."

The UAE's decision to become the first foreign investor in the region has been met with only a muted response from Pakistan, Pakistani-administered Kashmir and the broader Muslim bloc.

Traditionally, news of this nature would evoke automatic calls of condemnation from regional and Muslim countries, with Pakistan threatening to raise the matter at the United Nations.

Middle East Eye approached both the Pakistani foreign office spokesperson and the president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

MEE was told by the secretary to the president of Pakistani-administered Kashmir that "the president is thinking about your request for a statement or an interview". 

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