Amidst a heated debate in the House of Commons, Britain on Thursday said it agreed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent statement that any meaningful dialogue between India and Pakistan ‘necessarily requires an environment that is free from terrorism and violence’.
The three-hour debate in Westminster Hall on the ‘political and humanitarian situation in Kashmir’ witnessed strong words as MPs mostly upheld the Indian position on Jammu and Kashmir that included highlighting the plight of Kashmiri Pandits driven out of their homeland.
As MPs highlighted continued infiltration into J-K from the across the borders, foreign office minister Tobias Ellwood recalled Modi's August 29 statement on Pakistan, and reiterated Britain's known position: “It is not for the UK to prescribe a solution or to mediate in finding one”.
This was the second debate on J-K in the House of Commons in three years.
Unlike the debate in September 2011, which evoked much concern in official Indian circles, this time the response was less evocative with no overtones of triumphalism after the debate ended, which partly reflected a globally more confident India’s reset world-view that focusses more on countries such as Russia, Japan and the United States.
Ellwood said: “The long-standing position of the UK is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting resolution to the situation in Kashmir, one which takes into account…the wishes of the Kashmiri people."
Watched by a large number of people from the visitors gallery, Labour MP Barry Gardiner drew a hypothetical parallel, and said: “In exactly a week’s time, the people of Scotland will go to the polls in a referendum to decide the future of our country. The debate has been hotly contested and not without its ill temper; but imagine the outrage on both sides of that debate if the Indian Parliament, the Lok Sabha, were today debating the merits or demerits of Scottish independence and passing judgment upon what we in the United Kingdom see as a matter for us, and us alone, to decide."
To suggestions that Britain had a role to play in Jammu & Kashmir, Conservative MP Gregory Barker said: “Given Britain’s legacy in India, I have to say that I find the assumption—presumption, rather—that we somehow have a role to play slightly offensive. It smacks of neo-imperialism, it is arrogant and we should respect the extraordinary achievements of India since 1947. Britain would have a role to play only if and when our advice or assistance were sought. Clearly, in this case, it is not”.
Summarising the history of Jammu & Kashmir’s accession to India, Conservative MP Bob Blackman said: “Far from wanting secession, either to Pakistan or as a separate state, the vast majority of people in the state want it to remain part of India. I have a solution to the problem, which is that the Pakistani forces illegally occupying part of Kashmir should leave and unite Jammu and Kashmir as one state under the auspices of India, and then it should be decided what is to happen”.
Of ther 18 MPs who participated in the debate, two were of Indian origin: Paul Uppal (Conservative) and Virendra Sharma (Labour). The debate was secured by David Ward, Liberal Democrats MP from Bradford East, a constituency with a large minority of Pakistan origin.