National and International Issues

Kashmir Conflict: The World Must Come Forward

Kashmir became a focal point for the world’s attention in February when India and Pakistan became the first nuclear-armed states to have ever bombed each other. And it rapidly become a political football during the election campaign.
Now once again Kashmir is making headlines, following an Indian military reinforced occupation in the disputed region. The abrogation of Article 370 has plunged the lives of Kashmiris into complete chaos. Nevertheless all the while the Modi government and large sections of the Indian media claim that Kashmir is calm, and Kashmiris are thrilled at the changes.



But there is a voice missing in the back and forth on the disputed region, the same voice that I believe has been missing in many years of trying to bring a lasting peace to Kashmir – that of the Kashmiris themselves.


There is no guarantee that the dissatisfied youth in Kashmir will not engage in repeats of attacks like Pulwama. The problem will not go away until there is a policy shift towards Kashmir which gives Kashmiris a say in their own future.


Recent months have seen tensions between India and Pakistan peak, with Kashmir – one of the longest-running and most intractable conflicts on the map – the focal point.
The Kashmir conflict has a real personal resonance for me that reaches into my family roots and identity. My mother is a Kashmiri, I am Vice Chair of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir (APPKG), and many of my Manchester Gorton constituents  arefrom the region. While these are the factors in my desire to find a resolution to the dispute, they are by no means the only reason. 
As a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) I was Vice Chair of the Security and Defence Committee and Shadow Rapporteur for Bosnia. Conflict resolution was crucial to this work and, as I learned, in any conflict you have to bring the main parties to the negotiating table. But in Kashmir, the Kashmiris themselves are simply ignored by India when it comes to finding a way forward.
After the Congress Party pledged to amend a law giving special powers to the armed forces in Kashmir insurgency – citing the need to balance security and human rights – Modi’s Bharatya Janata Party once retorted that they should not be deprived of immunity. But today BJP herself has committed a heinous crime against Kashmiris.
But if you speak to the Kashmiri youth and those born during the 90s insurgencies, they have known nothing but conflict. In one of the world’s most militarised areas, they live their lives under the heavy guard of Indian military and paramilitary forces. 
They are the ones who have taken the brunt of most of the pellet gun injuries and recent military force which, as our APPKG has warned, is excessive and underscored by a near-wholesale impunity for the perpetrators
In the light of the current situation UN human rights experts have recently said that they were “deeply concerned” by the developments. Groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also expressed alarm.
The communications blackout, which has lasted more than three weeks, has severely hampered work by activists to document potential human rights abuses. The suspension of phone and internet services has also left relatives unable to call one another.


There is little trust between India and Pakistan, and what little there is seems to be under an increasing threat. Now with the abrogation of Article 370, the future of Kashmiris seems uncertain and in jeopardy. Let’s not forget that these two countries have gone to war three times. And the real danger of a war between two nuclear armed states that could be much, much worse cannot be ruled out until the issue of Kashmir is resolved.


I have raised the human rights issue in Kashmir countless times in Parliament and asked the former Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Office Minister, after the Pulwama attacks, why Kashmiris are not addressed in talks about Kashmir. The response I was given is that it’s an issue for India and Pakistan. Time and time again we are told that talks on Kashmir are to be between India and Pakistan – though Pakistan has always supported Kashmiris’ inclusion – an approach that I believe undermines the Kashmiri people and has helped to perpetuate conflict in Kashmir for so many years. Unlike the Conservatives, Labour in government will press for meaningful negotiations towards a political solution in Kashmir.
To echo Jeremy Corbyn’s position, the situation in Kashmir is deeply disturbing and the human rights abuses taking place are unacceptable. The rights of the Kashmiri people must be respected, and UN resolutions implemented. I have been disappointed with the Government’s response, which continuously deflects attention and overlooks the severity of the human rights abuses. Innocent lives are being destroyed and the UK must play a role in facilitating a peaceful resolution. A war between two nuclear armed states would be catastrophic, not only for the region but the world. 
The new political leadership in Islamabad recognizes Kashmiris as stakeholders, but, sadly, Delhi continues to declare Kashmir as an integral part of India, in complete disregard of UNSC resolutions and the will of Kashmiris. 
It seems that Delhi does not want to encourage dialogue with the Kashmiris, and yet the solution must come from within Kashmir itself. 
There is little trust between India and Pakistan, and what little there is seems to be under an increasing threat. Now with the abrogation of Article 370, the future of Kashmiris seems uncertain and in jeopardy. Let’s not forget that these two countries have gone to war three times. And the real danger of a war between two nuclear armed states that could be much, much worse cannot be ruled out until the issue of Kashmir is resolved. I urge the international community, including the United Nations, to raise the issue of Kashmir and broker peace in the region.
There is no guarantee that the dissatisfied youth in Kashmir will not engage in repeats of attacks like Pulwama. The problem will not go away until there is a policy shift towards Kashmir which gives Kashmiris a say in their own future.
Kashmir must not merely be a political football for Indian politicians to use to stoke communalism and boost their poll ratings. The people of Kashmir must have a say in their future. They, like everyone else, must be able to realise their right to self-determination. 


The writer is a member Parliament, UK and Vice Chair of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir. He is a former Lord Mayor of Manchester and a member of the European Parliament (2014-2017).
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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