Friday, 20 January 2017

Jammu and Kashmir

It was a rather one-sided debate in the House of Commons yesterday. After a workmanlike opening speech by David Nuttall, Conservative MP for Bury North, honourable members were queueing up to condemn India for violence towards the people of Kashmir, denial of their human rights and censorship of the media. Only Virendra Sharma (Labour, Ealing South) and Bob Blackman (Conservative, Harrow East) spoke up to justify India's holding on to Kashmir by force. Both felt that Pakistan could do no right, while most speakers seemed to feel that India was the only villain. Blackman's condemnation of the Islamic republic was clearly coloured by his support for Israel. One longed for an objective view, and it fell to Steve Baker (Conservative, Wycombe) to suggest that not all the Muslim propaganda material was corroborated. Both Mr Baker and Tom Brake called for an international investigation into the allegations of human rights abuses.

Three things depressed me about the debate

  • It was poorly attended. Considering the fact that it dealt with a dispute between two nuclear-armed powers, that this was only the second debate on the subject in the last twenty years and that descendants of Kashmiri families form a considerable proportion of the Muslim population of the UK, it should have attracted more members;
  • The quality was not great. The passion of most speakers, some of them infrequent and unpractised performers, militated against that and too many repeated the same litany of charges against India;
  • There was no mention of the Commonwealth until the penultimate speech (by Jim Shannon, SDLP). There were many references to the United Nations, but nobody seemed to realise the significance of the fact that the UK, India and Pakistan are all members and recognise the Queen as head of the organisation.

Nobody could have been happy with minister Sharma's stonewalling in his response to the debate:

The long-standing position of the UK is that it can neither prescribe a solution to the situation in Kashmir nor act as a mediator. It is for the Governments of India and Pakistan to find a lasting resolution, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. In our discussions with both India and Pakistan, we encourage both sides to maintain positive dialogue, but the pace and scope of that dialogue is for them to determine.

Waiting in the wings is China.

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