Row over UK MPs’ meeting on Jammu and Kashmir
A meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Kashmir this week received a critical update on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir from the president of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Masood Khan, prompting charges that it was no more than “Pakistani propaganda”.
There was no representative to provide the Indian perspective to the group comprising MPs from the ruling Conservative and opposition Labour parties. Some leaders of the UK-based Kashmiri diaspora alleged that despite requests to attend the event, they were not invited.
Categorised as a “country group”, the AAPG on Kashmir is one of many informal cross-party groups that have no official status within the UK Parliament, but are governed by rules set by the House and are subject to oversight by the parliamentary standards commissioner. APPGs focus on countries and subjects, and invite leading lights for hearings and events.
Chaired by Labour MP Chris Leslie, the 10-member group on Kashmir has seven Labour lawmakers – including Indian-origin Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi – and three from the Conservative Party. The meeting on Thursday was also attended by Pakistan high commissioner Syed Ibne Abbas.
Efforts to contact Leslie on the meeting did not elicit a response, but senior Conservative MP Bob Blackman said: “The APPG for Kashmir is merely a forum for those who support the illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan. Sadly, we have been prevented from forming a Jammu and Kashmir APPG as the Kashmir one already exists.
“The fact that they refuse to allow supporters of the legal position, that Jammu and Kashmir in its entirety is a part of India, demonstrates that they are merely pandering to the Pakistani propaganda machine. It is extremely sad that they refuse to invite organisations, or their representatives, that hold a different view to their meetings.”
The purpose of the APPG on Kashmir is described as: “To support the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people through dialogue; to seek support from British parliamentarians; to highlight the abuses of human rights in Kashmir; and to seek justice for the people there.”
Jammu and Kashmir chief minster Mehbooba Mufti was reportedly invited to the “hearing” but she did not attend. PoK president Khan was reported to have asked the APPG and the UK (as a member of the UN Security Council) to help highlight India’s alleged rights violations in the state.
Kashmir Voice International, a UK-based group comprising Kashmiris from the valley, said: “KVI is the only valley diaspora organisation that understands and deeply feels the pain of their people.
“Not inviting this organisation to APPG meetings is a deliberate attempt to shadow the real situation and provide platform to those who exploit the sufferings of Kashmiris to their benefit.”
MPs on the APPG on Kashmir had secured a debate in the House of Commons in January 2017 on the situation in the state, when most members were critical of India's handling. Only Blackman and Labour MP Veerendra Sharma presented the Indian perspective.
London’s long-standing position, followed by Labour and Conservative governments, is that it can neither prescribe a solution to the Kashmir issue nor act as a mediator. The Labour Party and its MPs see the conflict from a human rights perspective and often highlight it.
The Labour Party wants India to allow international rights monitors to visit the state to verify reports of violations since the current situation in the state, according to one of its senior-most leaders, “is not one that can continue as it is. It needs to be sorted out”.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told Indian journalists: “Our current position on Kashmir comes from a concern for human rights. We hear a kaleidoscope of stories, from the extremes to the less extreme; the human rights of Kashmiris continue to bubble up. I have spoken to the (Indian) high commissioner about this.
“Kashmiris want to live in peace. That should be our starting point. I know there are people in India who say these stories are exaggerated or indeed downright lies. And if that’s right, it does seem to me that India has nothing to fear from allowing human rights monitors into Kashmir in order to be able to support that it isn’t true.”
Refraining from going beyond the official position that the issue needs to be settled by India and Pakistan, and that Britain had no role, Thornberry said: “It is our place to keep saying that it needs to be resolved in a peaceful way. This is not radical, this is common sense.”