Kashmir: Problems of Lobbying for Kashmir in Britain

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Speak out against the rights violations in all parts of divided Kashmir and of all the state subjects

By Shams Rehman

Following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of Labour Party on 12 September 2015, I did a google search to see if he has a position on Kashmir Question and found out that he signed Early Day Motions (EDM) on Kashmir which were tabled in the British Parliament.

Although I am not part of any Kashmiri political party or any campaign group, I am a fairly active and independent Kashmir watcher in media, especially on social media where I am linked with thousands of Kashmiris back home and here in Britain and where any media clips or news about Kashmir do rounds. So I was somewhat surprised that these EDMs were not publicised on social media at all or at least not amongst my contacts. The text and the lack of signatures they attracted made me concerned. I thought of writing an article to express my concern but could not do that due to a variety of reasons.

However, since the current uprising in Kashmir following the killing of a young rebel Burhan Wani on 8 July 2016, the kashmir-problems-for-lobbying-in-britain‘lobbying activism’ of competing political groups, I thought it was crucial to highlight a fundamental flaw in lobbying on Kashmir. Because, in my view this flaw is not only detrimental to the struggle for justice, freedom and democracy in Kashmir but it seems that some of its consequences can be the deterioration of already marginalised and stigmatised position of British Kashmiri community. It must be pointed out here that this is not to undermine the commitment and devotion of British Kashmiris for the independence of Kashmir.

The first EDM was tabled by Blackman Bob, Conservative Party MP for Harrow East on 20 January 2015 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir. The text of this motion is as follow:

That this House commemorates with deep sadness the 25th anniversary of the attack in January 1990 by cross-border Islamic militants on the population of Jammu and Kashmir; expresses its condolences to the families and friends of all those who were killed, raped and injured in this massacre and also condemns the desecration of the holiest sites in Jammu and Kashmir; further expresses its concern that the Kashmiris who fled to save life and limb have still not secured justice for the atrocities committed against them; deplores those sponsoring such cross-border terrorist attacks and demands they cease immediately; and notes that the international principle of the responsibility to protect obliges individual states and the international community to take effective measures to prevent the commission of genocide and crimes against humanity as seen against the Kashmiri Hindu community.

In total 30 members of British parliament signed this motion 19 of which belonged to Labour Party, for Liberals, three Democratic Unionist Party, one Plaid Cymru (Welsh Independence Party) and one Independent MP.

The second motion was tabled by Imran Hussain Labour MP for Bradford East on 13 July 2015 titled Human Rights in Kashmir. The motion read:

That this House condemns all systematic human rights violations committed in Kashmir; calls on the Government to encourage the Indian government to abolish the Indian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act which has been pronounced by several UN treaty bodies to be in violation of international law; further calls on the Government to encourage the Indian government to deliver a referendum on Kashmir as promised in 1948 to allow Kashmiri self-determination; and calls on the Government to work constructively with Pakistan, India and China to bring a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict in Kashmir.

A total of 38 MPs signed this motion including 26 Labour, 7 Scottish National Party and one Green Party, Democratic Unionist Party, Social Democratic and Labour Party and Independent each.

The third motion was tabled on 8 September 2015 again by conservative Blackman Bob which was titled Human Rights Violations in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir. The motion stated:

That this House condemns all systematic human rights violations committed in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir; calls on the Government to demand from the Pakistani government a guarantee that state-sponsored cross-border terrorism will cease immediately; further calls on the Government to encourage the Pakistani government to withdraw to the pre-October 1947 border without any delay or pre-conditions; and calls on the Government to note that it is the 25th anniversary year of the attack by cross-border Islamic militants on the population of Jammu and Kashmir to commit acts of genocide.

This was the least popular motion which attracted only 9 signatures which included 4 labour, 2 SNP, 2 DUP and one Tories, the proposer.

Leaving the critical analysis of the contents of each motion, I just want to engage in an elementary analysis here.

What is obvious is that the majority of MPs signed each of the motions belonged to Labour Party and given the size of the Tory party, mere two MPs putting their signatures is not an indicator of great interest of the party in Kashmir conflict and the human rights violations in Kashmir. It also appears that other smaller parties also take some interest in Kashmir issue.

However, what should be a cause of serious concern for British Kashmiri lobbyists is that each EDM focuses on the rights of particular region or religion of Kashmir and an alarmingly small number of MPs who have signed motions have done so on party, political, regional or ideological lines. For some MPs violations of the rights of Kashmiri Pandits is something they can condemn but not those of Muslims. For others it is only the abuse of Muslim Kashmiris’ rights is condemnable and Pandits’ rights don’t qualify to be condemned along with that of Muslims. For still others Human rights violated in the Indian administered Kashmir (IAK) need protesting about but any mention of the control and hegemony of Pakistani Administered Kashmir (PAK) (‘Azad’ Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan) is a sin some might even claim tantamount to being anti-Islam. Then there are those who will only speak against the violations of human rights in ‘Pakistan Occupied Kashmir’ and would not utter a word about the many times worse and brutal atrocities in the ‘India Occupied Kashmir’.

This may be acceptable to the governments of India and Pakistan. Maybe it also can serve the agenda of those who use the human rights situations and labels to push forward the agenda of their specific backer (or who they back), but it should not be acceptable to those Kashmiris especially British Kashmiris who stand for the human rights of all the citizens of divided territories of Kashmir and for that matter for every human being regardless. This is particularly important for those who are not in the field to lobby for the interests of Indian or Pakistani rulers in Kashmir but whose dedication and commitment is rooted in their desire for justice, freedom and inclusive democracy in Kashmir. For Justice, freedom and democracy have any meanings only if they are fought for without bias, prejudice and discrimination. Soon you discriminate you are actually committing, what you claim you are fighting against. British Kashmiris who are involved in Kashmir related activism in Britain need to sit back and ponder over some basic questions about their approach for lobbying regarding situation in all parts of Kashmir.

How can it be acceptable for anyone who claim to be striving for the united independent state of Kashmir with equal status for all Kashmiri “State Subjects” can stay quiet about what is happening to the people of Valley now and focus only on Azad Kashmir and/or Gilgit Baltistan? How can those who focus exclusively on the Valley ignore or justify the killing and displacement of Pandits belonging to the same Valley? How can those who campaign to highlight the plight of Pandits ignore and even some times justify the massacres and constant terrorising of Kashmiri Muslims in the Valley? These are some of the very basic questions which British Kashmiris need to address to make their lobby for Kashmir in Britain successful for which otherwise thousands of Kashmiris across Britain are genuinely investing a great deal of their time, energy and resources.

The Way Forward

The way forward for British Kashmiris is what Jeremy Corbyn did with reference to the above EDMs. He is the only MP who signed all three motions. Simply because of his wider politics, I assume, he did not see the issue through the prism of India or Pakistan or Muslims or Hindus but through the perspective of Justice and humanity. The very notion of human rights transcends all spheres and boundaries of social groupings and political bias or partisan politics. The issues raised and condemned in all three above resolutions are all issues of the people of Jammu and Kashmir State. Any Kashmiri who claims to be against the human rights violations must speak out against the violations of human rights in all parts of Kashmir and of all the state subjects. Yes, it is true that the immediate need is to create as much pressure as possible to have the current brutalities in the Valley by the Indian forces to be stopped. However, can we do so under the tutelage of Pakistani rulers and do all the India bashing with religious connotations and don’t utter a word about what Pakistan does to Kashmiris who do not want accession with Pakistan? Then we sit back and wonder that why we don’t have enough support even amongst those who genuinely support human rights and right to freedom?

Now the key is with Kashmiris to unlock the support of all those who support human rights, justice, freedom and democracy. To do that we have to make our mind up if we are concerned about the violation of human rights in all parts of Kashmir and of all the citizens of Kashmir regardless of their religion, region or political views or we just are concerned that rights of those who share religion or political views or regions with us and we don’t care if they violate the rights of those who we don’t share these attributes with. This of course does not apply to any one community, region or political party or lobby group be they Pandits or Muslims or from Azad Kashmir or Gilgit Baltistan or Kashmir Valley or Jammu or Ladakh or be they inside Kashmir or in diaspora.

If our lobby groups can address this major flaw in our approach, then I am confident that not only our support will grow but it will grow in all parties and at least it will be difficult for India and or Pakistan to manipulate lobby on Kashmir. I may prove wrong but is it not worth trying to see if we can get support from more than 38 MPs in a parliament of over 650 British MPs? For I don’t think only two conservative MPs care about the human rights violations in Kashmir. Once we resolve this flaw we might be able to build a sustainable and inclusive platform of British Kashmiris to liberate Kashmiri narrative and Kashmiri perspective on Kashmir question from layers of control and manipulation. Then we will have more friends and supporters certainly amongst those people of the world who care and are active part of the worldwide movement for social justice, freedom and democracy.

(Shams Rehman is a Research Associate at the University of Manchester and one of the founding members of Kashmir National Identity Campaign in Britain. He works in the U.K for recognition of Kashmiris as a distinct nationality)

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