Rare Kashmir debate

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In a serious attempt to shake the slumbering world conscience, British parliamentarians engaged in a spirited midweek discussion on Kashmir. Most of the 11 MPs, including a minister, taking part in the discussion strongly agreed with Pakistan’s positions on the Modi government’s brutal treatment of the residents of the Indian occupied territory.

The few speakers who took India’s side seemed hardpressed to defend New Delhi, and had to go to great lengths to try and criticise Pakistan. And what’s unprecedented about the whole discussion held at Westminster Hall in the House of Commons is that its minutes have been made available on the British Parliament’s website. The debate was opened by Labour’s Sarah Owen, who proposed the “Political Situation in Indian Occupied Kashmir” as the topic. Owen spoke at length about the restrictions New Delhi imposed in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) since August 2019, when it revoked Article 370 of the Indian constitution and carved up the occupied territory. Beyond the political change, she spoke directly of the conditions for common people in the occupied region, comparing their lives to the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown.

“I am sure we have all caught ourselves at some stage moaning about the lockdown, but for the people of Kashmir it is not something new,” she said, adding that in the occupied territory “the lockdown is not about safety. It is about control”. She also spoke of how seven million Kashmiris have been silenced and cut off from the outside world. Conservative Party’s James Daly’s call for “taking stand with President Biden in America” came suggesting a collective way forward.

He also sees an opportunity to come up with an international programme through the United Nations — the programme for “Kashmiri people who for 70+ yrs have been going through the most awful hell. We can join together by the determination to stop Muslim persecution in Kashmir, we can be united to protect human rights certainly in this region.” Naz Shah, the Labour MP of Kashmiri origin, went to the extent of calling upon Prime Minister Boris Johnson to cancel arms sales to India. Of great significance is what Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Nigel Adams came up with — a call upon the Indian government to “do more”.

To the foreign minister, the situation in the occupied region is of “particular concern” for the British government. While noting that New Delhi had partially relaxed some restrictions, including internet access, Adams said “more should be done”. However, he avoided taking a stronger tone by saying it was not “appropriate” for the British government to intervene in a bilateral dispute. The best the pro-India camp could come up with — and that too totally wrongly — was that Islamabad retains same controls over Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and that rights groups have criticised the actions of radicals in Pakistan while conveniently ignoring that reputable NGOs all condemn New Delhi’s state-sponsored abuses in Kashmir and the rest of India.

Meanwhile, the Indian High Commission in London issued New Delhi’s standard outrage response — that India’s ‘internal issues’ are off-limits. Oddly enough, the Indian government has not reprimanded Prime Minister Narendra Modi for commenting on the recent riot in Washington DC.

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