Resource: Official website of British Parliament. Dated 19 January 2017
- Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con)
I beg to move,
That this House notes the escalation in violence and breaches of international human rights on the Indian side of the Line of Control in Kashmir; calls on the Government to raise the matter at the United Nations; and further calls on the Government to encourage Pakistan and India to commence peace negotiations to establish a long-term solution on the future governance of Kashmir based on the right of the Kashmiri people to determine their own future in accordance with the provisions of UN Security Council resolutions.
Let me start by thanking my fellow members of the Backbench Business Committee for allowing me to stand down from the Committee briefly in order to apply for the debate, and for agreeing that it could take place today. I should also declare that I am the current chairman of the all-party parliamentary Kashmir group.
I thank all the groups who have campaigned so steadfastly on this issue for so many years. I particularly thank Raja Najabat Hussain of the Jammu and Kashmir Self Determination Movement, who works tirelessly to keep up the profile of the issue of Kashmir with MPs, but I also thank Fahim Kayani and the Kashmir Movement UK, Sabiya Khan and the British Muslim Women’s Forum, Azmat Khan of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, Najib Afsar and the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Council, and Dr Syed Nazir Gilani and the Jammu and Kashmir Council for Human Rights.
- Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab)
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. May I ask him also to put on record his thanks to all the ordinary Kashmiris, in this country and back in Kashmir, who fight time and again, in a peaceful manner, to ensure that this issue is high on the agenda so that we take some action?
- Mr Nuttall
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I certainly put my thanks to those people on record.
Let me explain why the motion was tabled. Essentially, it was tabled because this issue matters to thousands of my constituents who are of Pakistani and Kashmiri heritage, and I know that it matters to the constituents of a number of other Members who are present today. Many of my constituents have families in Kashmir, and in some cases they have personally lost loved ones, or seen loved ones scarred for life as a result of violence.
Some Members may not be familiar with Kashmir. It is an area of territory that runs across the border between Pakistan and India. The root causes of the conflict can be traced back to 1947, when the colony of India was granted independence by Britain and was partitioned into two separate entities, India and Pakistan. The state of Jammu and Kashmir, with a predominantly Muslim population but a Hindu leader, shared borders with both India and West Pakistan.
The area has a long and complex history. Obviously there is not enough time for me to go into all of it, but suffice it to say that the argument over which nation would incorporate the state led to the first India-Pakistan war, in 1947-48, and there have been several further upsurges in the conflict since then. I do not need to remind the House that both countries are now nuclear powers. Just to complicate matters further, some of the historic territory of Kashmir is now under the control of China.
I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma), the Minister for south Asia, in his place and I am grateful to him for taking the time recently to meet members of the all-party group on Kashmir. I know he will be aware that the fact that Britain was responsible for the partition leads many in the Kashmiri community to believe this country could and should be doing more to try and help resolve this matter. The fact that partition was 70 years ago demonstrates the intransigence of this problem, and I am under no illusion that there are any easy solutions.
I wish to cover two areas: the recent increase in violence and human rights abuses, and the longer-term issue of trying to resolve this long-running conflict. The most recent increase in violence began last year when, on 8 July, 22-year-old Burhan Wani was killed by the security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir. Tens of thousands attended his funeral, at which clashes broke out between the security forces and protestors. Security forces fired live ammunition into the crowd, killing several people and a police officer was also killed.
Since then the authorities have declared a succession of curfews and closed down mobile phone services and media outlets. Attendance at mosques and adherence to religious practices has been restricted. Protestors have organised a series of general strikes and there have been regular public rallies. Schools, colleges and universities have also been closed. The economy has been badly hit. Funerals have often led to further clashes between protestors and the security forces. Critically, scores of Kashmiris have been killed and many thousands of civilians have been seriously injured.
- Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this important debate. He rightly points out the recent escalation in human rights violations, but does he agree this is a much longer-term problem and that human rights violations have happened in that region for decades?
- Mr Nuttall
As I have said, there is a long and complex history to this issue and, as the hon. Gentleman says, there have been many upsurges in violence over the years and many human rights abuses that have been catalogued and recorded.
- Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is imperative that an international investigation into those human rights abuses is carried out as soon as possible?
- Mr Nuttall
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Yes, I do agree, and that is something I will mention briefly later in my speech.
The use of pellet guns has left thousands of people, including children, injured and in many cases blind. Armed militants have increased their attacks on the security forces. In September 2016 an attack on an army base killed 19 Indian soldiers, the army’s worst loss of life for well over a decade. There has also been a serious flaring up of tension between India and Pakistan, with regular exchanges between their forces along the line of control. These have led to significant military casualties. Senior figures on both sides have been ratcheting up the hostile rhetoric, leading to growing fears of another major escalation in the conflict between the two countries.
I know the Government are concerned about any allegation of human rights abuses—Ministers have said so many times in answer to both oral and written questions—but I urge the Minister to condemn the attacks and the use of pellet guns. The fundamental human rights that are enshrined in the Indian constitution must be adhered to. There must be an end to the use of pellet guns on innocent civilians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other interested parties must be allowed free and complete access so that they can make an objective assessment.
I turn now to the role of the United Nations in securing a long-term settlement. There has been 70 years of inaction since the original resolutions requiring the conflict to be resolved by peaceful democratic means were passed, so it is easy to see why so many in the Kashmiri community think that the United Nations has lost interest in their problem. I have often said that the dispute is all too frequently ignored by the media. There is always some other conflict elsewhere in the world that grabs the headlines. I know that the United Kingdom, as a member of the United Nations, supports all UN bodies and wants to help them to fulfil their mandate, but there has surely been a failure on Kashmir if the resolutions have gone unfulfilled for so long. I appreciate that the Government have to tread a careful path and that we want to be friends with both India and Pakistan, but a candid and true friend is one who sometimes says things that the other friend may find unpalatable.
- Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con)
I support my hon. Friend’s motion. This is not a question of supporting either the Indian Government or the Pakistani Government; it is about supporting the people of Kashmir. He and I campaigned for many years for a referendum to decide whether our country should be part of and governed by the European Union, and the people of Kashmir should be afforded the same liberty of deciding how they want to be governed in future.
- Mr Nuttall
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In a few lines’ time, I will mention the historic decision that this country took on 23 June last year.
- Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
I concur with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) that this issue is about Kashmir, but it involves not just India and Pakistan, but China, so we have to concentrate on all of them to ensure that the civil and human rights of the Kashmiri are the priority in this debate.
- Mr Nuttall
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the matter involves more than one nation and, crucially, is about the rights of the Kashmiri people.
We have to make it clear to both India and Pakistan that we want to help them find a permanent, peaceful solution to the conflict. Of course, this country cannot impose a solution, but we may be able to do more to bring the parties closer together. I want to be absolutely clear that this is not about taking sides and saying, “If you are a friend of Kashmir, you are not a friend of India.” The problem must be resolved by peaceful means. I want the people of Kashmir to be given the right to decide their own future through self-determination, a right which was so historically exercised by the people of this country on 23 June last year when a majority voted to leave the European Union.
No one believes that there is an easy answer, but anything has to be better than having a military-controlled line of partition between the two neighbouring countries. I suspect that there will always be a rivalry between India and Pakistan, but that rivalry should be contained on the field of sport. In responding to the debate, I ask the Minister to set out not only the Government’s position on Kashmir, but what more this country can do.
- Robert Flello
While I agree that we need a long-term solution that is in the hands of the Kashmiri people, does he agree that there is an important step to be taken beforehand? The Foreign Office and the Government can play an active role in getting both sides round a table to negotiate peace, stability and a calming of the situation, so that children’s lives are not ruined or lost in the meantime. Let us get a summit for peace going and then we can focus on the longer-term solution.
- Mr Nuttall
I entirely agree. Perhaps I should have finished my sentence, because that is exactly what I was saying. I ask the Minister to set out not only the Government’s position on Kashmir but what more this country can do, either through the United Nations or by working directly with India and Pakistan, to bring the two nations together to find a lasting and peaceful solution to this conflict.
I commend the motion to the House.
- Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
I declare that I am privileged to be the first Member of Parliament of Kashmiri heritage. I also have a significant number of Kashmiri constituents, who have a significant interest in this issue. I am sure that many other Members have been contacted by constituents with such an interest.
The key issues when discussing Kashmir are Kashmiri geography and Kashmiri self-determination, and many people are very concerned about that. For me, the key issue today is the violation of the human rights and civil liberties of the Kashmiri people—that is the most important thing. There have been violations of the Geneva convention by Indian armed forces.
As other Members have said, Kashmiris are having their human rights violated and abused. That has gone on for at least the past six decades, since Indian forces unlawfully invaded Kashmir in 1948. Kashmir was then an independent state under the reign of Maharaja Hari Singh. In 1953-54, a resolution was presented to the United Nations by the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, to allow the Kashmiri people the right of self-determination. To date, to the shame of the United Nations, such resolutions have not found their way to the General Assembly. People still wonder—certainly the Kashmiris are still wondering—whether the plight of the Kashmiris is worth its salt; it certainly seems not to be worth hearing in the General Assembly of the United Nations. That is very significant.
A number of Members wish to speak, so I will try to be as brief as possible. I recognise the work of the shadow Foreign Office team, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), who has responsibility for south-east Asia, and the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). They have both made recognising human rights and civil liberties a significant policy issue for the Labour party. The shadow Secretary of State has written to the Foreign Secretary, ahead of his second visit to India, asking him to raise the issue of human rights and civil liberties in Kashmir when he discusses trade. I hope that, on his return, he will report to the House that he has raised those issues with the Indian Government.
There are currently more than 500,000 Indian troops in Kashmir, and they are protected by the Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Power Act 1990, which allows them complete free rein to abuse and torture people. There is no accountability when people go missing, and there is no court in India than can hold Indian troops to account. It is a clear violation of the Geneva convention for any military to be able to do such things, and I am surprised that we still do not raise it. I hope the Minister takes note and raises it with the Indian Government.
- Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) on securing this debate, and I congratulate him and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) on their powerful speeches. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a particular concern about the use of pellet guns in Kashmir? Does he agree with me and Amnesty International that there should be a ban on the use of such guns, which are causing such serious injuries to so many people?
- Mr Mahmood
I thank my hon. Friend for that. I will deal with that issue later in my speech, but I wholly agree with what she is saying.
I was talking about half a million soldiers in Kashmir who have no control over how they behave and how they abuse the people. There are serious concerns in Kashmir, particularly about the situation of the civilian population. We are very concerned that when a woman leaves the house, whether she be a mother, a daughter or a wife, we do not know what state she will return in—if indeed she will return at all. There have been gang rapes by the military—an absolutely atrocious act by any individual or community.
- Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab)
I am sorry to interrupt such an incredibly passionate speech. One thing the Government fail to recognise is the passion, worry and fear that our constituents, British citizens of Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri extraction, have about this issue. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister and the Government really need to listen and start paying attention to the needs and demands of their citizens?
- Mr Mahmood
I wholly concur with my hon. Friend, who makes a very valid point, particularly on the issue of the abuse of women. We do not allow and accept that in any way at home or in any other country, so why should we allow it to go unchecked when we are talking about the Indian forces in India and in Kashmir? Why should this be allowed to continue? I find it absurd and we should be making far stronger representations—I urge the Minister to do that.
When a man goes out of a house, whether he be a father, a husband or a son, there is no guarantee that he will come back and what state he will come back in. We have seen beatings taking place. We have seen videos on YouTube, Facebook and other social media of people being summarily beaten up in the streets—they are held by a disproportionate number of military personnel and beaten to within an inch of their life. They are tortured and taken away; people go missing. In some instances, when they go missing, they do not come back. That is a serious issue.
Children in Kashmir have no stake in their normal community or society. We expect our children to have a proper education in normal society, but Kashmiri children do not have an ounce of the protection needed in order to have that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) said, when they go out into the streets they are greeted with pellets and such like. They have no proper education facilities and no healthcare. They have no real stake in the society that they are part of, and the generations go forward: this is the sixth generation of Kashmiris growing up under this tyranny and they have no protection whatsoever.
The pellet gun issue that my hon. Friend raised is about a horrendous act by the military. They have not just fired these guns to warn off crowds; they have specifically targeted the upper body of individuals. They have aimed at the face and at the eyes, and a number of people have lost their eyesight. Aiming these guns at the upper body means that people cannot even receive medical treatment, because the medical people will not use a scan on them as magnets are used when a body is scanned and so a scan would further assist the movement of the metallic pellets inside the person. That might lead to further injury, be it in their head, eyes or upper body, including their heart, arteries and so on. That would cause a significant problem for most people.
Those are the issues involved with the use of pellet guns. When someone is penetrated by these pellets and they go through a security barrier, it is easy to assess that they have been involved in these sorts of activities and so they will be pulled out, again to be held accountable. We are talking about torture of a whole community and of a whole society. A report entitled “BURIED EVIDENCE: Unknown, Unmarked, and Mass Graves in Indian-Administered Kashmir” has been produced by the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir. It was written by Angana Chatterji, a well-known human rights activist, whose report deals with a significant number of mass graves that she has found, through her organisation. Unfortunately, no notice is taken by anybody. No notice is taken by any Government—our Government in particular. If this was to happen anywhere else, there would be a huge outcry, with people clamouring for international war crimes tribunals to be held and for these things to be dealt with.
I appreciate that we have an urgent debate to come after this and that a significant number of colleagues wish to speak, so I wish to conclude by saying that this is about the abuse of human rights and civil liberties, and the contravention of the Geneva convention. I would like the Minister to take note of those three important things when he sums up, and to say what he is going to do about it and how he will have an interaction with the Indian Government to hold them to account. If India wants to be a serious trade partner with the UK, these are the responsibilities it must carry. These issues are very important to my constituents and to all of us in this place, so it must ensure that that is considered and taken forward.
- Several hon. Members rose—
- Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle)
In order to give everybody equal time and a fair crack of the whip, will Members please just take up to eight minutes?
- Nusrat Ghani (Wealden) (Con)
First, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) on securing this debate and on being such a strong advocate for Kashmir and Kashmiris in the Chamber.
In 1947, India and Pakistan partitioned, bringing about the largest migration of people in history, with more than 14 million people—refugees—crossing the newly formed India-Pakistan border for safety. One border disputed to this day is Kashmir, a small piece of land in the Himalayas which today is an unstable home to 12 million Kashmiris. On 24 January 1949, the first group of United Nations military observers arrived in Jammu and Kashmir to oversee a ceasefire between India and Pakistan. Almost 70 years later, India and Pakistan have evolved but Kashmir is still a region beset by political disagreement, violence, and human rights violations. Its population is just 12 million, yet more than 3,000 people have disappeared during the past 70 years and the conflict has left more than 47,000 people dead, including 7,000 police personnel. The death toll continues, with both India and Pakistan at an impasse, as was depressingly noted in a House of Commons Library research paper on Kashmir. It stated:
“Currently, the two governments”—
those of India and Pakistan—
“are engaged in a process of rapprochement. This is not the first such process, but it has given rise to optimism.”
That paper was written in 2004, and India and Pakistan have still got nowhere. Optimism has run dry, and bloodshed and bullets in Kashmir have taken over.
UN observations have taken place at various times since 1949, at considerable cost, but to what effect? Resolutions have been passed calling for ceasefires, for security forces to be withdrawn, and for a plebiscite giving Kashmiris the opportunity to decide whether to join India or Pakistan, or even to determine their own future—that is the cornerstone of any civilised democracy.
- Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con)
The UN clearly has a pivotal role to play in Kashmir, but does my hon. Friend believe it has sufficient skills, resources and political will to do what we are expecting of it in securing peace?
- Nusrat Ghani
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I would say that the UN has considerable skill and considerable resources, but it is falling down on political will. Seventy years have been lost and Kashmir pays the price with lost lives and livelihoods. Last year, it saw an unprecedented level of violence and curfew, with 68 civilians killed and more than 9,000 people injured during months of unbroken violence. This was the bloodiest episode in Kashmir’s recent history. The shame of the international community in failing to recognise the violence and offer support to Kashmiri civilians is a bloody stain on all our history books.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasised the importance of an
“independent, impartial and international mission”
within the conflict-ridden region, with “free and complete access”. Top UN officials have said that they continue to receive reports of Indian forces using excessive force against the civilian population under India’s administration, yet India has refused the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to investigate allegations of human rights abuses. I fully accept that Pakistan, not just India, has to allow the UN access to Kashmir so that it can evaluate the damage that the conflict has caused before it becomes another footnote in Kashmir’s history.
The UN has had 70 years to help Kashmiris, but instead has for too long wilfully sidelined the dispute. We need a renewed effort for honest UN involvement to resolve the current crisis, with the UN using all its powers to investigate the crimes committed. What pressure can the UK, by taking advantage of our privileged position on the Security Council, put on the UN? The UN has to show some humility and give some backbone to its statements. No resolution or reconciliation can resume until there is acceptance, not dispute, over the lives lost and damaged. Unlike at any other time in history, we have a real role to play, offering our hand of friendship and partnership. Pakistan is one of the biggest recipients of our aid funding and a partner in tackling terrorism.
Only last year, the Prime Minister visited India to secure a substantial trade deal. During that trip, what discussions took place on Kashmir? Will the Minister update the House on his discussions on Kashmir with his counterparts in both Pakistan and India?
Prime Minister Modi of India said that
“any meaningful bilateral dialogue necessarily requires an environment that is free from terrorism and violence”,
and he is absolutely right. The recent escalation of violence creates terror where no authority is trusted, not even those that are meant to offer protection.
In Kashmir, pellet guns are being used by security forces. The Indian Government have advised that pellet guns should be used rarely, and only in pressing circumstances, yet the Central Reserve Police Force continues to use them persistently. These guns cause life-threatening injuries and brutally blind people—so far, more than 9,000 people have been injured. By their very nature, these pellet guns are the antithesis of targeted precision. They spray and maim through a 6-foot circle. It is impossible to limit the number of casualties with a 6-foot fan of pellets. These are not precision weapons or defensive weapons, and their use in open public places must constitute a human rights violation.
With a pellet gun, anyone and everyone within that 6-foot circle is a target, even children sitting at home. Twelve-year-old Umar Nazir was in the courtyard of his home—he was not protesting—when his eyes were hit by pellets. Both his eyes are injured, with little vision left. He is recovering in Srinagar, where the ophthalmology department has stated that it lacks the medical supplies to proceed with surgeries for injured retinas because the demand is so high. Depressingly, a former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir was forced to tweet Prime Minister Modi to ask for eye surgeons and eye trauma experts to be sent to Kashmir to help those with injuries. People’s lives are being lost and people’s vision is being removed for life, and the best way to get help from Government agencies seems to be by sending a tweet. That is how desperate the situation has become.
Will the Minister ask his Indian counterparts what their justification is for using pellet guns in public spaces? I can see none. Does he agree that the indiscriminate nature of such weapons constitutes a crime when they are used in public spaces? The Central Reserve Police Force has refused to share its operating procedure for this lethal weapon. Will the Minister put pressure on India to disclose its justification? Perhaps the Indian authorities can share with us which other liberal democracy uses such a weapon on its own people. Will the Minister tell the House what aid or medical support is being provided to Kashmiri hospitals?
The human rights violations I have described should be argument enough for UN access for observation. Human rights violations will not disappear without observation; they will just be disputed. If the UN takes the Vienna declaration seriously, it must step up its activity and willingness to be involved.
This is not just a regional issue. India and Pakistan both have nuclear weapons, so the stakes in the dispute are high. Pakistan is reputed to have the 11th strongest military in the world; frighteningly, it is also ranked as the 14th most fragile country. This regional dispute is not so regional: when two nuclear powers fail to resolve such a volatile dispute, it affects us all and has the potential to threaten us all. That is especially true as the terror has taken a new, violent form.
Access to books and education is key to building a strong community. For the first time, schools and educators have become targets. Village schools are being targeted for destruction, with at least 24 being burned to the ground last year. In one incident, the principal of a school in Bugam, Mohammed Muzaffar, rushed to the school as it was burning to the ground. He cried out that it was like his home being burned. It was no ordinary school: built in 1948, it housed 3,000 books.
With schools on fire, teachers fearing for their lives and books burned to ashes, the future is bleak for both young and old in Kashmir, as is its economic security. It is in all our interests that the crisis in Kashmir is recognised, that the full force of our international community is marshalled to support the UN in gaining access to Kashmir, and that all our diplomatic relations are focused on providing a resolution and respite for Kashmir.
- Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)
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First, Mr Deputy Speaker, may I send through you my good wishes to Mr Speaker on his birthday? There is a long queue of people wanting to wish him a happy birthday, and it is important to do so.
Two and a half years ago this House last debated Kashmir, and this is only the second debate in nearly 20 years. I declare that I am the chair of the Indo-British all-party group, and a person of Indian origin who was born in India, studied there, and then came here. I do not know how many Members have visited Kashmir; I think that, between my schooldays and now, I have visited Kashmir 14 times in my life, so I am quite familiar with the economic, social and political conditions there. I am not going to say anything that is hearsay; there will be no vested interests or ill-informed information here. I say that because I have seen practically what is happening and has happened, and the political situation over there.
Having listened to previous speakers, I feel sad that we are bringing together issues that are not linked at all and that are not happening in the way they are being presented. Let us look at the political situation. I strongly condemn any violation of human rights. For the past 45 years I have canvassed and campaigned on human rights issues. When India has violated human rights, I have criticised it—I have criticised India for many other traditions that the Indian Government or people have failed to tackle. That is why I feel strongly about the way we are debating the Kashmir issue today: the questions that are raised are untrue and not relevant to the situation.
- Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Ind)
My hon. Friend mentioned that he has visited Kashmir 14 times, but does he accept that the Indian authorities make it exceptionally difficult for British Members of Parliament to visit that part of the world?
- Mr Sharma
I am sure that happens. The reason is that when someone wants to visit a place, they must be free of any prejudices before they go. If they have declared beforehand what they think is happening and publicly denounced it, no Government would allow them to visit. Give me one example of a Government who have allowed people to visit who have previously criticised their country.
- Imran Hussain
I thank my hon. Friend, who is well respected in this House, for giving us his expertise. Does he at least accept that by speaking up against human rights violations in any country, one is not necessarily against that country?
- Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle)
Order. Can I help Members who are going to speak shortly? There is a danger that their interventions will take time away from somebody else. I do not mind having the debate, but Members must recognise that I want to treat everyone equally.
- Mr Sharma
I am not saying that that is not the way one presents the argument or that that is not right. I am saying that no Government or authority would allow people to visit if they are not free of prejudice.
- Robert Flello
Will my hon. Friend allow me to intervene?
- Mr Sharma
No, I will carry on. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be speaking later. [Interruption.]
- Robert Flello
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I am chair of the justice for Colombia group in Parliament. I criticise the Colombian Government time and again, and they let me into their country where I criticise them again.
- Mr Sharma
Let us look at what has been happening since 1947. In 1948, after a line of control and a ceasefire were declared, India and Pakistan advocated that they should be part and parcel of the negotiations. In 1965 and 1971, India was attacked in an attempt to change that line of control. Again, in 1999, Pakistan tried to seize an opportunity to redraw the internationally accepted line of control. In total, that happened three times: in 1965, 1971 and 1999.
Having been unsuccessful in full-scale military manoeuvres to take control of more of Kashmir, subversive elements within the Pakistani Government have, since the millennium, turned towards terrorism to further their ends. In 2004, Pakistan made a public commitment to prevent terrorist groups from using its territory to plan, prepare or launch attacks against India. Since then the Pakistani spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence—ISI—has been heavily implicated in India’s most notorious terrorist incidents, most notably the 2008 Mumbai attacks which left nearly 200 dead.
That behaviour—[Interruption.] I will come on to Kashmir, but I am giving some background. That behaviour is regularly seen across Kashmir. Although the line of control is demarked, fighters from Pakistan launch attacks across the state. Those terrorist atrocities are perpetrated only to destabilise the region. They do not help the people of Kashmir or make anyone stronger. All they do is further the misery of millions.
Since the 1948 riots, there has been an attempt to cleanse the region of native people opposed to Pakistani intervention. In the 1990s, we saw the most sustained civil activity aimed at driving Kashmiri Pandits from the Kashmir valley. In 1947, a quarter of a million Pandits lived in Kashmir, now only around 20,000 remain. The majority live in squalid camps in Jammu, desperate to return to their homelands. They are unwilling to settle elsewhere and prejudice their right to return.
The threat of communal violence looms large—an ever present threat for millions. That is why we see images of soldiers across Kashmir: they are there to protect citizens of all stripes. People who want to go to work, school, or university are allowed to do so only under the protection of the Indian army. Without the protection of Indian troops, we can see all too easily what happens. The horrifying stories of brutality from the Peshawar school attacks that left more than 132 schoolchildren dead or the assassination attempt on Malala would not be so uncommon. Very few Members of this House would have done anything but affirm the actions of the British Army in trying to maintain the status quo in Northern Ireland. The army is there to protect the border, just as it did in Ulster, and, just as it did in Belfast when it made sure that young boys and girls from Catholic and Protestant families could continue to live the lives that they wanted.
The National Human Rights Commission of India has freely criticised and called for punishments when the rule of law has not been upheld to a rigorous standard. That is not a level of freedom allowed to those residents in Pakistan, which is recognised as the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.
The European Parliament observers had this to say after the state elections in 2014—
- Mr Deputy Speaker
May I just say to the hon. Gentleman that he has now been speaking for nearly 11 minutes? I did suggest eight minutes; we are now well over. I know that this is a very important matter, but I want to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.
- Mr Sharma
By working every day for a safer, more prosperous Kashmir, the Indian Government are fulfilling their commitment. The people desire a life unblemished by random acts of terror, where they are free to pursue their own dreams of education, employment and a peaceful life. Why must we again listen to hyped media accusations rather than look at the evidence of patterns of peaceful elections?
- Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)
I rise to support the motion. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) on securing this debate and on the spirit with which he moved the motion. I am very proud that we are having this debate—the second one since I was elected—and that I am rising in support of the position that I took in the previous debate on 15 September 2011.
I should also say that I am very proud of the Kashmiris in the United Kingdom, and in Wycombe in particular, for the dignity and determination with which they pursue this issue, despite the difficulty of doing so and in the context of the seriousness of the issues involved. I wish to make three points to the Minister: the first is about the intractability of the issue; the second about some lessons from our own referendum; and the third about how we might make progress.
It is the long-standing position of the Government that this is a matter for the two independent nations of India and Pakistan to resolve. I have reliably found that in the Foreign Office gallows humour is applied to this issue, which is known as the graveyard of Foreign Secretaries. That is a matter of very considerable regret. This issue of self-determination, which we have seen in the United Kingdom, is not one to be thought of as impossible to meet. We have just met it, and this is a moment when the Foreign Office should know that self-determination is not an issue on which no progress can be made in the 21st century. It is not good enough to adopt such a view. I am acutely aware, as is everyone here, that this is a long-standing policy, which Governments of all colours have held, so I mean no criticism of this Government or this Minister. However, it is not good enough to continue this policy for two reasons: first, it is incumbent on all of us in this House to represent the many thousands of people in our constituencies whose family origins will be in India, Kashmir or Pakistan, and they deserve to have their voices heard in this place and internationally.
- Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab)
The hon. Gentleman is making a very important point. What Kashmiris say to me, particularly those in Nottingham but also from across the country, is that there needs to be a much greater urgency from everyone to tackle this problem. It has been going on for decades. The worry is that, in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years’ time, people will still be discussing the same issue.
- Mr Baker
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and that is why I begin with the point about intractability. The other reason it is not good enough to adopt the current position is that this is a legacy of the British empire and we should acknowledge our historic responsibility. There is a conversation to be had about world views and the willingness of individuals to accept ancestral responsibility, but that is perhaps for another day. Just because it is difficult to make a stand on this issue does not mean that it is not the right thing to do. It is right for the British Government to make a stand on this question.
Secondly, I have some questions about lessons that we might learn from our own referendum. Those of us who are asking for a referendum for the fulfilment of United Nations mandates have to ask ourselves, what if we win, what if we make progress and what if a referendum were held? I want to make two points in particular. The first question is about the collective basis on which a referendum could be held. What would be the demos? Who would vote and on what basis would the result be enforced? We know that in the UK there are those who do not wish to accept the national referendum result; we know, for example, that the Scottish National party picks up on the point about how Scotland voted. These will all be live issues in the event that a referendum is held in Kashmir.
I appeal to all Kashmiris who work on these issues to give serious thought to what the demos would be and on what basis the result would be considered legitimate by all parties, because the other issue—which is of foremost seriousness—is that we saw passions run extremely high in the United Kingdom, where politics generally proceeds no further than harsh language. Given that we are dealing with a region of the world where live conflict among major nuclear-armed powers is a risk, we must ask ourselves how a referendum in Kashmir would proceed peacefully not just during the campaign but afterwards.
Finally on this point let me say something about unity and division. I know that in Wycombe there are British Kashmiris who voted remain, and perhaps many who did not vote at all, who supported the fundamental principle that we should have had a referendum. I am pleased and proud to stand with them, united that as we go forward we should have a referendum for Kashmir.
The third point is perhaps the most contentious: how should we make progress? The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) described as untrue some of the things that the House has already heard in the course of the debate, and this is a very important point. At different times, we have heard Pakistan accused of state-sponsored terrorism, and India accused of using inappropriate weapons, of gang rape and of murder. I do not wish to see either nation slandered and, of course, the crucial difference between a valid charge and a slander is truth. When it comes to making progress, I appeal to everyone to focus relentlessly on objective fact, and to the Government to facilitate that.
I know what I have seen with my own eyes in the videos that have been shown to me. I have seen what is purported to be Indian soldiers beating a confession from a man and what is purported to be Indian soldiers killing a man in the rubble of his own home in Kashmir. They are images that I would prefer never to have seen and that I would never wish to see again, but the crucial question is whether they are a set-up, or propaganda, or whether they are true.
- Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
- Mr Baker
Will the hon. Lady bear with me a moment?
If the videos are true, Kashmir is a matter for the whole world. The most commented on videos on my YouTube channel are from the beginning and end of the 2011 debate on this subject. The overwhelming consensus is that we should stay out of Indian affairs, but if these allegations are true the whole world cannot stay out of Kashmir and of India and Pakistan’s affairs.
- Stella Creasy
- Mr Baker
I will not give way, because I am being encouraged to wrap up.
I understand that the Foreign Office thinks that this issue is intractable, but we have seen in our own country that it need not be. Yes, there are lessons to be learned and the Government can facilitate them, but for goodness’ sake let us recognise that if even a fraction of the allegations being made are true this is an urgent and pressing issue for the whole world.
- Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab)
The House will know of my long-standing interest in Kashmir. Many thousands of British citizens of Kashmiri extraction have made their home in my constituency, and I take an interest on their behalf, but I have a more personal interest as my family originates from Kashmir. All four of my grandparents were born in Kashmir before my family moved to this country, so this debate has very personal resonance for me.
The hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) has already set out the background to this long-standing dispute and I pay tribute to him and to others who led the charge to secure today’s Backbench business debate.
We have heard already that this is a long-standing dispute between two nuclear-armed powers in one of the world’s most heavily militarised regions. It does not receive enough attention anywhere outside the region, and certainly not in our own country given the size of our British Kashmiri population; it certainly has a lot of from that population, but not enough from those outside it. I therefore pay tribute to all the doughty campaigners from all parties who have taken every opportunity available to raise this serious matter in the House of Commons and to press both our current Government and previous Governments to do more to help to build a resolution to this long-standing crisis.
The further push for debate on Kashmir has come as a particular result of the upsurge in violence and fighting in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir since last summer. We see the unacceptable failure of the whole world, the refusal to give effect to UN resolutions and the denial of respect for the self-determination of the Kashmiri people playing out in the worst possible way. People have lost hope and are rising against that loss of hope to try to force to have their rights be respected.
That significant upsurge in violence has elicited a brutal response from the Indian authorities. I am afraid that I wholeheartedly disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma). I do not believe that it is possible to minimise the extent to which the Indian authorities have acted in a disproportionate manner that has significantly harmed and, indeed, created great tragedy for the Kashmiri people in the region. This is the biggest uprising in two decades and the brutality of the response of the police and security services cannot be ignored. The fact that that is the case is upheld by human rights organisations across the world, including Human Rights Watch, whose world report for 2017 found clear evidence that the police and security forces have acted with impunity, that there have been extra-judicial killings and that mass rape has occurred. All those things are not acceptable.
I concur with the comments made by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker). Of course, there will be questions about the veracity of the videos we will see on YouTube, on Facebook and elsewhere on social media, but there should be an open investigation to prove the veracity of the videos. If they are true—I believe that they will be found to be true—there are big questions for the Indian Government to answer.
I have to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall that the big difference between the Indian Government and other Governments that commit human rights abuses is that India is the largest democracy in the world. Being a democracy is not simply about giving people a vote to decide their Government. It includes much more. It is about fundamental respect for the rule of law and for basic human rights that must be protected and that sit alongside the ability of the people to elect their Government.
- Nusrat Ghani
Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?
- Shabana Mahmood
I am afraid that I would be doing other Members out of their time if I gave way. I apologise.
The use of pellet guns has been mentioned. This is a significant issue for the Indian Government, and our Government must press them more on it. The Indian defence for the use of pellet guns to see off protestors who they say are throwing stones is that pellet guns are non-lethal. Of course, a pellet gun will probably not kill, but I defy anyone to see the pictures of the victims of pellet gun attacks and say that that is a proportionate response against civilians in a democracy. It is not, and I do not believe that anybody would stand up in this House and say that it is.
When we debate Kashmir, people who speak more in favour of the Indian Government’s stance will often say that the position of those who live in Jammu and Kashmir is better because they are able to vote, they are free to take part in the democratic process and they are basically free, and that self-determination is not necessary because they are a free people, freely electing their own local leaders with a significant devolution of power. Nobody—not one person—in Jammu and Kashmir has voted to be hurt, injured, beaten up, raped, blinded or killed. Pellet wounds are brutal. They are a brutal response by the Indian authorities and send a brutal message to the Kashmiri people. They leave brutal scars, which are not just carried by the individuals who bear the physical scars but are borne by the whole community in Jammu and Kashmir itself and all around the world by those of us of Kashmiri extraction. They are a symbol of the population’s repression, its desire to resist that repression and its cry to be heard.
That cry is falling on deaf ears in the largest democracy in the world, which wants to do more business with the rest of the world and play a greater role in world affairs. That position is simply not acceptable and our Government must not shy away from making that plain, especially in relation to the use of pellet guns. Tremendous, appalling, sustained and deliberate misery has been visited on the people of Kashmir for too long. The stories of disappearances and the discovery of mass graves have brought no official UN-led investigation whatever. The police and the security forces have impunity, especially given the implementation of the Special Powers Act of 1990. If a people are humiliated, abused and allowed to lose hope, and offered only despair in turn, and given no answers and no rights, there will an uprising. It is inevitable.
None of us as responsible legislators, also working in a democracy, can watch these events unfold and sit on our hands. We can do more. The legacy of empire demands that we do more. We have a duty to speak out more regularly. We have a duty to challenge as well as to encourage both the Indian and the Pakistani authorities. I have to say to the Minister that the written answers to the questions tabled, particularly last summer, are so bland it is as though these matters are a daily occurrence that can be ignored. That is not good enough. There are other disputes in this world that elicit much stronger responses from the Government when Members of this House table written questions. That has not been the case in relation to the dispute in Kashmir. In particular, there has been no definitive answer on whether the Prime Minister specifically raised the issue of human rights abuses with the Indian Government. It is not enough to tell us that the issue of Kashmir was raised. We need to know whether the human rights abuses and the use of pellet guns were raised.
I believe that it is now incumbent upon the British Government to make a clear call to raise this issue at the United Nations and to ask for an independent, UN-led investigation into human rights abuses, so that we can at least demonstrate that although some parts of this world see this as a forgotten conflict, or a conflict they want to be forgotten, we will never forget it and will keep fighting.
- Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood). I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) for the calm and measured manner in which he introduced the debate. I hope that we can continue that throughout the debate.
No one in the debate has yet mentioned that 19 January 1990 was an evil day in the history of Jammu and Kashmir—the day when 65,000 Hindus were forcibly expelled from the Kashmir valley by Islamic jihadists, under the slogan, “Die, convert or leave”. They forced only the men out. They said, “Leave your women. We will convert them, we will rape them and we will make them all Muslim.” One of the sad facts of this largely forgotten area of conflict is that it has a religious element as well as the aspect of where people wish to live.
I had the opportunity in February last year to visit Jammu and Kashmir. I went to Srinagar and to Jammu. I was heartened by the fact that when I met people from all walks of life in Srinagar, particularly those from the chamber of commerce, they came with a series of opportunities, including trade, hydro-electric power, agriculture, canning goods to be sold across the world, as well as using the beauty of the Kashmir valley to attract tourists to the area. It is an area that we would all love to go and visit and that we would all love people from across the world to be able to go and visit. The one fundamental issue that they all raised was that of safety and security.
The reality is that when we talk about the suffering in Jammu and Kashmir, we have to concentrate on the human rights abuses and violations against Hindus, Sikhs and minority Muslims. The sad fact is that this has been used as a means of ethnically cleansing this part of the world.
I hope when the Minister replies he will comment on the fact that the European and Indian authorities identified terrorism as one of the major sources of concern to both the European Union and India. Jointly, in their communiqué, they condemned the terror attacks in Brussels, Paris, Pathankot and Gurdaspur and recalled the November 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. They called for the perpetrators of these attacks to be brought to justice. Leaders called for decisive and united actions to be taken against ISIL, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the Haqqani Network and other internationally active terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Those terrorist groups all operate from Pakistan. They are along the international line of control. They are infiltrating terrorists into the sovereign state of Jammu and Kashmir.
We should remember that the fundamental element of this is when Britain ceased to be the colonial power. The decision on whether states opted either for Pakistani control or for Indian control was left to each independent state. The Maharaja Hari Singh, who was the last ruling Maharaja of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, signed the instrument of accession to India, bringing the state under India on 26 October 1947. We should be clear that under international law, the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India. It is the crowning glory of India. As such, every other aspect that has gone on after that date has been a violation of international law.
Several hon. Members have alluded to the United Nations resolution, and we must remember the detail: Prime Minister Nehru took the issue to the United Nations in the first place, seeking to get the Pakistani forces that illegally occupied part of the sovereign state of Jammu and Kashmir to leave. The UN resolution calls—this is the first element—on the illegal occupying forces of Pakistan to leave Jammu and Kashmir, then for the Indian forces to reduce to what is required for security purposes and then, and only then, for a decision to be made on a plebiscite for the people of Jammu and Kashmir on what should be their destiny. Pakistan has never accepted or complied with that UN resolution. That is one of the fundamental reasons why we have this challenge and problem today.
- Mr Baker
My hon. Friend is making an articulate case, as always. Does he think there is any chance of India engaging in confidence-building measures with Pakistan on this point so that that element of the resolution might ever be fulfilled? Is India willing to give appropriate assurances?
- Bob Blackman
Clearly, I cannot speak for the Indian Government and the UK has ceased to be a colonial power. We are not the power that will tell India or Pakistan what to do and, in that respect, I am concerned that the motion could be misinterpreted in other parts of the world—[Interruption.] I think that Mr Deputy Speaker will hold me to account if I give way.
There have been numerous violations of the ceasefire along the line of control, and a recent upsurge in violence, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North mentioned. Studies have found that the shells, GPS units and everything else that emanated from the site where those Indian troops were killed and murdered came from Pakistan military use, so it is quite clear that Pakistan was behind that conflict. The number of violations across the line of control has been frequent and well documented, and that needs to be understood. The recent upsurge in violence resulted from the Indian forces eliminating Burhan Wani, the Jihadi John poster boy of jihad.
The use of pellet guns and other human rights abuses have been taken up by the state Government of Jammu and Kashmir, who have had four debates on the subject. Those human rights abuses have been called to account and will be fully investigated, and any proven perpetrators will be suitably punished. I think we can say that the sovereign state is looking after those aspects. We want a peaceful resolution to the situation so that the people of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, can live in peace and harmony.
- Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) on securing this extremely important debate that, as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary Kashmir group, I assisted in bringing to the House. I am privileged to take part because the issue matters deeply to many of my constituents and to me personally, as my family originates from the state of Kashmir so I know the region well. Although the seriousness of the issue means that I could talk at great length, time does not permit so I will try to keep my contributions to several key areas.
I believe that the most pressing matter is the longstanding and ongoing human rights abuses taking place in the region. Last summer and long after, we saw the devastating deployment of pellet guns that resulted in the indiscriminate maiming and blinding of hundreds of Kashmiris, and the horrific photos of the aftermath of their use, with pellets embedded in the bloodied faces of demonstrators and children—images we would all like to forget. But security forces did not stop there. Thousands were injured, phone lines were cut, internet access was constrained and the region was placed under a strict curfew. We would expect such moves under a repressive regime, not one with the hallmarks of a free, open and liberal society.
The abuse then turned deadly, with the illegal use of live ammunition by security forces on unarmed demonstrators resulting in their deaths. Unfortunately, however, this is nothing new. The reality is that human rights abuses have gone on, largely unchecked, for decades in the region, as is well documented by many well-respected human rights organisations. Unaccountability for these crimes is rife. If we are to address the abuses, we must first look at the draconian Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, which allows the security forces to escape justice and accountability. It was only ever intended to be invoked on a temporary basis, but has continued in force since 1990. It has been widely criticised by well-respected human rights organisations, with numerous calls for it to be repealed. I repeat those calls today because the Act grants security forces in the region heavy-handed powers to kill, arrest and search. It is because of the Act that there have been near unspeakable horrors and abuses of human rights including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, tormented and tortured civilians, mass rapes, widowed wives and orphaned children.
According to recent figures published in the Journal of Law and Conflict Resolution, between 1989 and 2010 there were almost 7,000 custodial killings. Some 118,000 civilians were arrested, almost 10,000 women were raped or molested, and as many as 10,000 Kashmiri youths were forcibly disappeared. There is no doubt that such abuses are taking place—I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma)—as they are well documented. To deny that they are well documented is to go against many well-respected human rights organisations and the evidence, including video footage and photographs, that we have seen with our own eyes.
- Nusrat Ghani
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
- Imran Hussain
I may come back to the hon. Lady, but she knows that time is very limited.
As has been mentioned, we must not turn a blind eye to abuses that take place. We must not ignore them or just stand by. We must send a clear message today that wherever it takes place, injustice is injustice, and it will never be tolerated.
The second important issue is that of self-determination, specifically the right of the sons and daughters of Kashmir to self-determination and the urgent need for them to be able to exercise that right. A lot has been said about UN resolution 47, calling for a plebiscite on the future of the region. The resolution is crucial to the story of Kashmir, past and present, but it is non-binding, which is why the plebiscite has not yet taken place. However, I call again for the implementation of that resolution, whether it is called UN resolution 47, a free and fair plebiscite or whatever we name it. The ultimate choice must be for the sons and daughters of Kashmir to determine their own destiny. They have waited for more than 70 years for their voice to be heard and to make a decision on their future to determine their lives. For more than 70 years, they have been denied their birth right to self-determination. The international community must do what is fair and proper, allowing the sons and daughters of Kashmir their birth right.
I am passionate about the subject and could go on, but time is not permitting, so I will conclude. I have previously asked the Minister in this House to condemn the human rights abuses in the region. I ask him again today to use this opportunity on behalf of the Government to condemn those abuses. At the very least, Minister, please accept that the abuses are taking place, and assure us that the Government are doing everything they can to allow for a peaceful resolution on the basis of the sons and daughters of Kashmir determining their own destiny—something that is very much overdue.
- Naz Shah (Bradford West) (Lab)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) on securing this timely and important debate.
It is said that in war there are no winners, only losers. If so, the people of the Kashmir region have surely paid too great a price. The UN resolution was passed in 1948—almost 70 years ago—and we seem no closer to self-determination in the Kashmir region than we did then.
As we know, and as many have said and will say in this debate, the last six months have seen nothing but backwards steps. We have curfews; censorship; the wounding, maiming and killing of civilians; the death of military personnel on both sides; the economy crumbling; food shortages; a refugee crisis caused by tens of thousands of displaced civilians; and skirmishes along the line of control. We have seen international pacts under threat, water shortages, deep divisions on both sides of the line of control, and progress well and truly in reverse.
As we all know, it has been the position of this Government and of successive Governments that the issue of Kashmir is for India and Pakistan to resolve at a pace they see fit, and in a way they see fit, and that it is not for our Government to intervene, suggest solutions or mediate. But what, then, do this House and this country stand for? We have loss of life, widely reported human rights abuses and a United Nations that cannot gain genuine access to the Kashmir valley. To our shame, although we raise this issue with both sides, every time any member of the Government has been challenged to raise it directly at the United Nations, that request has, as far as we can tell, been politely declined, politely deflected and politely ignored.
Those who live in the region and those of us who follow events in Kashmir closely know that a deep underlying tension has scarred one of the most beautiful places in the world. We have all seen the pictures and reports of the oppressive and aggressive tactics that have been used to silence dissent and squash civil unrest. But the people are restless, and rightly so—it has been nearly 70 years since partition, and they are no closer to being in control of their own destiny.
The reports that have come out of the region have been tragic and disturbing. Estimates put civilian deaths at somewhere between 85 and 120. The number of civilian casualties is estimated to be over 13,000, due to the action by security services. We have seen communication —internet and telephone services—restricted. We have seen an attack on the free press, and particularly the Kashmir Reader, which was banned from publishing for months.
Many have talked today about the use of pellets. How a standard operating procedure of firing below the knee can be used for a shell of pellets that have a 6 metre dispersal range is a question for the ages. That is, by any definition of the term, an indiscriminate use of force when used in a crowd, and reports have shown that that is the case in practice, with many civilians losing their eyesight due to this modern form of crowd control.
One widely reported story that struck me was that of a 14-year-old girl who died of respiratory illness. She died as a result of inhaling PAVA chili gas. For six days, she lived with burns to her throat and lungs, and she eventually passed away in a hospital on a ventilator.
The motion raises a number of issues that need further consideration by the House. One is that the Government need to do more at the United Nations to encourage the de-escalation of tension, to encourage both sides to give the UN access to the Kashmir valley and to assess the reports of human rights violations.
- Stella Creasy
Does my friend agree that one of the more constructive things the Government could do is press for an independent UN inquiry into human rights abuses? That has helped in other situations around the world.
- Naz Shah
I absolutely agree that we need to push for an independent inquiry.
We are not asking the Government to prescribe how Pakistan and India resolve the entrenched issue of peace in Kashmir, but everyone here will recognise that, with the situation as it is on the ground—with civilians being killed, oppressed and impoverished—there can be no progress towards peace or a resolution. We have an obligation to do everything in our power to help the region return to a level of normality—I use that term loosely—before any progress can be made towards peace.
The motion also recognises that, for there to be any meaningful and lasting peace in the region, the people of Kashmir have to have the freedom and security to make a decision for themselves. We have long talked about the self-determination of the Kashmir people, but under the current occupation, and without robust and lasting local representation, can we truly expect to reach a position where the will and wishes of the people in this region are not only heard but truly listened to?
When uprisings like this are met with excessive force, that only further entrenches differences. These things have played out many times since the 1990s; at the end, the bodies of civilians are counted, and the people who survive and who struggle to live in this region become further embittered towards those they hold responsible for their oppression.
It is in the interests of Pakistan and India to improve relations, for the security and prosperity of the over 1.4 billion people who live in those countries and the region as a whole. The situation requires strong international leadership—not to force India and Pakistan into a solution but to invest in the foundations that can lead to a lasting peace and to the self-determination of the Kashmir people, and I call on the Government to take the lead.
We have a responsibility 70 years in the making. We as a nation have a vested interest in both these countries. We are intrinsically linked to both of them. We have had a major impact on their history, and we must help them to create a future. We have just signed a massive trade deal with India. The China-Pakistan economic corridor will have an impact on the wider world in terms of trade, growth and prosperity. There is an international perspective, and it is to our benefit.
I spent my teenage years in what is known as Azad Kashmir. Azad, means “free”: free to go to the shops, free to play, free to go out into the street, free to visit—free to go wherever I, or my family, want. My family remain in Azad and continue to enjoy the freedoms of Azadi, but the children in occupied Kashmir do not have those freedoms. They might not return if they go out. A son might not return with his eyesight, and that will affect 70% of his abilities as a human being—I know that from my experience of working with disabilities. A young girl might not return, and if she does, has she been raped and violated? These things—these disabilities—are the reality of the occupation in Kashmir. We cannot and must not abdicate our responsibility. It will be quite frankly shameful if the Government continue in their inaction.
I ask Members to support the motion and to call on the Government to use the current climate to help push Pakistan and India into more prosperous diplomatic relations. I finish with the words of Martin Luther King:
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
This House and this Government cannot remain silent on the issue of Kashmir anymore.
- Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op)
It is a tragedy in some ways that we are still here debating this issue, although I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee and hon. Members for securing the debate. Here we are again—I think it is a couple of years since we had a substantive discussion of this matter.
As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), it is 70 years since the partitioning of the region, where Britain, of course, had an integral responsibility and role. It is for that reason that we cannot wash our hands of this problem, just ignore it or sweep it under the carpet. The UK has a long-standing duty and responsibility to take an interest and to be involved in this issue.
We have heard, of course, about the United Nations resolution and the call for a plebiscite to solve the issue, but nothing really moves forward. The frustration of many of my hon. Friends in the Chamber is palpable. We do not particularly relish having to come here to talk about this issue time and time again, but we find ourselves having to do so.
Decades on, we find ourselves talking about some of the tragedies that are occurring. Yes, there are occasionally brief spells of calm, but those are then broken by rising tensions, by conflict and by the flare-up of issues. Often, that is because funerals breach curfews that are put in place, which in turn escalates the conflict in this heavily militarised part of the world—and on and on the cycle goes. We have heard a lot about the effects of pellet guns, for instance; I am glad that many hon. Members have raised that. The UK Government must make it clear that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to address civil issues that arise on the streets.
Lots of different organisations and parts of the community have a role to play, as well as the UK. The United Nations clearly has a role. This issue should not be parked and hidden away, often because there is very little media coverage and not much information about what is happening in this part of the world. India and Pakistan do not just have a role—they have a responsibility to do more to move away from the heat and the conflict in this situation to find a better path to the future. Perhaps a wider regional approach to finding peaceful solutions should be explored, given that we see this in other conflict zones around the world. Often where there are bilateral disagreements between two countries in a region, trying to find ways of saving face on either side is incredibly difficult, as we have seen in the middle east, so there is an argument for involving other parties and nations in that part of the world to think about ways of breaking the deadlock.
The Kashmiri community themselves clearly want to have a role, and they do have one: they are a very vocal community in many of our neighbourhoods. As I have said to many groups that press for attention to be given to human rights and for self-determination in Kashmir, it would help massively if they could all co-ordinate and work together. That includes communicating with Members of Parliament, because we are not getting information about what is happening in that part of the world. Much more could be done in the new ways in which we operate, even on social media, to make sure that the wider community and policymakers are aware of issues that arise, and effective co-ordination would make a difference in that regard.
We need to start to think laterally about how to crack this problem so that we are not here again in two years’ time. What different mechanisms could be available to try to find peaceful solutions? The UK has a role and should think about promoting peacekeeping, which means encouraging Governments to demilitarise and stop the attacks to take out the tension and the heat; promoting peace-building, which means reversing some of the destructive steps that have been taken in recent years; and promoting peacemaking, which means searching for negotiated resolutions where possible. All these things can and should be taking place simultaneously.
Leaders in India and Pakistan must all dial back on aggression and not be provoked by individual attacks, although that is of course difficult if they feel that different governmental forces are behind, or alleged to be behind, certain attacks. Normalisation of the situation in Kashmir is absolutely essential so that we can open the routes and channels for dialogue. As my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford East and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) said, we must go back to the rule of law as a matter of urgency, and have the accountability for the police and the armed forces that has been lacking in many ways.
I know there is a long-standing position in terms of the Foreign Office’s policy on this, but I call on the Minister and the UK Government to think about ways of promoting conflict resolution and confidence-building measures between the different sides—for example, a summit to learn lessons about peacemaking tactics in areas where the UK has been involved in times past. The conflict in Northern Ireland was lengthy, and it took a lot of time to get people around the table, sometimes not even in the same building or the same room, but the UK Government have expertise in this field and they should find ways of applying it. It is also worth thinking about the potential role of economic development and regeneration in reciprocation for dialogue that we might want to have, because that has worked in other situations.
I thank those from the Pakistani and Kashmiri community who have made strong representations to me. On Friday 24 February, I will host a Nottingham roundtable on Kashmir, trying to bring together, as independently as I possibly can, all those with an interest in this issue to try to drill down into what the community is looking for and the solutions that might be viable, and then to make representations to the Government. I am grateful for the opportunity to make that point directly to the Minister this afternoon.
- Continuing on the next post.