Why do British MPs keep raising the issue of Kashmir in Westminster? It can only be pressure from their constituents. Last week, three events in Parliament highlighted the situation that might confront Prime Minister Theresa May when she arrives in India this week.
Jess Phillips, a recent Labour Party MP, chaired a meeting in Parliament organised by Tehreek-e-Kashmir, UK, with guest speakers Abdur Rashid Turabi president of Jamaat-e-Islami and Wajihuddin Ahmed, a former senior justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, to lobby Members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, including Lord Ahmed for the interests of their comrades in Islamabad.
Julie Cooper, another Labour MP, chaired a meeting organised by Misfar Hassan, a child psychiatrist working in the NHS, with keynote speaker Najib Afsar, chief co-ordinator at Jammu Kashmir Liberation Council. Cooper shared the chair with JKLF’s international, diplomatic and political campaigns’ head, Azmat A. Khan, Misfer Hussan and JKLF UK Zone president, Sabir Gul. Many senior leaders from JKLF including general secretary Syed Tehseen Gilani attended. The group objected to the UK government’s stance that Kashmir is a matter for India and Pakistan to resolve. They were lobbying for the release of political prisoner Yasin Malik, the JKLF chairman. Apart from the usual Pakistani origin MPs, Yasmin Qureshi and Khalid Mahmood, as many as 40 British MPs were reported to be in attendance.
During the 1960s and 1970s, a large number of Mirpuris settled in the UK Midlands. They have developed a consolidated community and are championing their idea of “liberating” Kashmir. UK MPs are thus succumbing to vote bank politics and embroiling themselves in a discourse irrelevant to UK, and what is perceived as offensive interference into India’s affairs. The irony is Mirpuris are nearer to Punjabis than Kashmiris, even the languages are not similar to those spoken in Jammu and Kashmir.
In the spirit of the three-part UN Resolution of August 1948 the Governments of India and Pakistan agreed to creating and maintaining an atmosphere that would be favourable to further negotiations (removal of irregular troops) and the state of Jammu and Kashmir being restored as it existed at Independence in 1947; this means that Jammu and Kashmir will consist of the Northern Areas of Gilgit-Baltistan, PoK, Jammu, Kashmir Valley and Ladakh. Subject to the above being achieved the Government of India would ensure that the Government of the State of Jammu and Kashmir restores law and order. In the final part which is conditional on the above two parts, the future status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir shall be determined in accordance with the will of the people and in that end, both governments will enter into consultations to determine impartial conditions whereby free expression will be assured, such as a plebiscite.
The trouble is the two British Parliamentary meetings and Pakistan only interested in the third part of the UN resolution, which is chronologically dependent on the first two parts being achieved. As witnessed today, “irregular” troops still wreak their havoc/destruction across the LoC. Since the UN Resolution there have been three wars, the Shimla Agreement of 1972 and the Lahore Declaration of 1999 and yet a bilateral peaceful reality is nowhere in sight.
During the 1960s and 1970s, a large number of Mirpuris settled in the UK Midlands. They have developed a consolidated community and are championing their idea of “liberating” Kashmir. UK MPs are thus succumbing to vote bank politics and embroiling themselves in a discourse irrelevant to UK, and what is perceived as offensive interference into India’s affairs.
The historical subtleties of the ethnicities are perhaps opaque to some UK MPs. The Gilgit-Baltistan people are mostly Shia, the PoK people are mostly Sunni, the people from Jammu are predominantly Hindu, the Valley people are both Hindu and Sunni and the Ladakhis are Buddhist. Traditionally, the Gilgit-Baltistan community has relied on trade with the Ladakhi community for survival. Now they are abandoned and isolated but they are still the custodians of the all-important water supply from the glaciers. But who in the UK is speaking out for Gilgit-Baltistan human rights? What the UK MPs are failing to understand is that despite cultural, language and regional culinary differences, the people of the original state of Jammu and Kashmir are all Indians and have always been so.
The question remains why do Pakistan leaders come to UK to talk about Kashmir? Why don’t they talk about investment, development and the human rights of people in PoK, as did Arif Muhammad Shahid who was so critical of Pakistan’s policies in PoK that he was murdered and forgotten?
What the meddling UK MPs must realise is that not only is Kashmir is none of their business but by doing so they are playing a huge part in holding back the people of the region from peace, progress and prosperity, just for a few votes in their constituencies. Every terrorist incursion that Pakistan makes postpones a solution and gives India the moral high ground not to negotiate with a Pakistan that cannot restore normalcy.
As an optimistic counter narrative for Jammu and Kashmir on the UK parliamentary front was the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) Business Roundtable, organised by Lakshmi Kaul, curator and director of the recent Jammu Kashmir Festival in London. Naveen Choundhary, Commissioner Secretary, Finance of the state Government of J&K highlighted that the majority of the population in J&K was peaceful and was intent on building the future for young people. Sheikh Imran, Chairman of CII-J&K, spoke of the ease of setting up new businesses, taking land on lease to set up new industries and start-ups. M.K. Ajatshatru Singh spoke about the preservation of J&K cultural heritage. The work of reviving lost heritage and digitising ancient scriptures is underway as part of the Dharmarth Trust projects with a view to promote and preserve ancient scriptures. Religious tourism across Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh was regarded as a great opportunity.