The Friends of Kashmir Group in the European Parliament held a joint event with the Jammu Kashmir Self Determination Movement International on 12 September in Brussels. The event was held in order to give Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and civil society an opportunity to discuss ongoing issues in Kashmir. The event was sponsored by MEP Richard Corbett and MEP Anthea McIntyre. Whilst many Parliamentarians from all parties are calling for impartiality on this subject, a small group of UK MEPs appear to be determined to inflame an already tense situation.
MEPs Richard Corbett, Irina Von Wiese, and Shaffaq Mohammed, recently visited Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and gave an account of their findings. Mohammed is himself of POK Kashmiri origin. Many of the MEPs present spoke about how encouraging it is to see this topic actually reach the institutions that can begin to address the issue. One prime example of this was the session of the Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) of the European Parliament where Kashmir was discussed. The AFET session was held ‘in camera’ to avoid comments and allegations being used by the media or others to misrepresent the discussions in the committee.
In the middle of August, the MEPs hosting this event, along with several others from the UK Liberal Democratic Party, wrote to the High Representative of the European External Action Service, Federica Mogherini, to highlight their personal concerns regarding India’s actions to revoke Article 370 and 35A. A surprising move since India is a democracy, under which it has the legal right to make changes in accordance with the Constitution and legal oversight of its Supreme Court, a legacy left from the times of the British Raj.
Other speakers included Raja Najabat Hussain Chairman JKSDM International and President of POK Azad Kashmir, Sardar Masood Khan. Mr Khan, whilst advocating and politicising POK, is a non-Kashmiri and has no ancestral links to Kashmir. His speech included claims against India’s human rights violations but failed to recognise the increasing numbers of terrorist groups coming from Pakistan nor the human rights violations in POK. The event was little more than a propaganda exercise, which failed to focus on the economic, social and cultural benefits proposed for Kashmir. The event did not address the Indian government’s fight against terrorism, except to state that “Pakistan is in no way supporting terrorism”. This statement contradicts the findings of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights which describe how since “the late 1980s, a variety of armed groups has been actively operating in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, and there has been documented evidence of these groups committing a wide range of human rights abuses, including kidnappings, killings of civilians and sexual violence. While in the 1990s there were reportedly over a dozen armed groups operating in Indian-Administered Kashmir, in recent years four major armed groups are believed to be operational in this region: Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen and Harakat Ul-Mujahidin. All four are believed to be based in Pakistan- Administered Kashmir.”
The inciting of violence is now a major concern not only in India, but across Europe and particularly in the UK. On 15 August and 4 September Pakistani militants protesting against India’s legitimate actions and democratic rights threw stones and eggs in a violent attack against the Indian Embassy in London. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was forced to condemn the violence as “unacceptable”. Much of the violence has been incited by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, when he stated that there would be an increase of jihadi attacks against India.
MEP Mohammed said that “the people of Kashmir should be able to decide on their fate”. However, ironically, whilst the Pakistanis, and alleged Kashmiris, protest outside of Pakistan, the Interim Constitution of Azad Jammu and Kashmir prevents such protests in POK. The Constitution actually places several restrictions on anyone criticising the region’s accession to Pakistan, in contravention of Pakistan’s commitments to uphold the rights to freedoms of expression and opinion, assembly and association. The amended Interim Constitution of 2018 even went as far as retaining the clauses that directly contravene international human rights law. It explicitly continues to state, “[N]o person or political party in Azad Jammu and Kashmir shall be permitted to propagate against, or take part in activities prejudicial or detrimental to the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan.” MEP Corbett suggested a scenario that if across “South Asia, there was free movements, etc. – the potential for human being and economic prosperity would be enormous – like we did in EU”. This strange analogy, at a time of Brexit and rising resistance in Europe to free movement of people, once again forgets the unequivocal evidence that has been used by the US, UK, France and others to label Pakistan is a country that supports State Sponsored Terrorism. Such an open border policy would allow the terrorist groups based in Pakistan to spread across South Asia. India is not only protecting its own borders from terrorist activities inside India, but is also trying to protect South Asia and beyond to prevent the expansion of jihadist networks.
The current situation in the Indian state of Kashmir is steadily returning to normality as the propaganda against India proves to be exaggerated and unfounded. Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh remain free from violence or abuse. The heavy security presence in the valley is slowly being reduced, but remains in place to maintain law and order, and provide a sense of security to the people against the threats of terrorism that have been made by Pakistan. All utilities are being restored, with schools and hospitals becoming fully operational. Whilst the internet and phone services were shut initially to prevent terrorist communications, restrictions are being restored.
It is unfortunate that Pakistan has been carrying out a malicious propaganda campaign on the situation in Kashmir. The Pakistani leadership and the Pakistani army have made open calls for radicalisation and Jihad, which the EU should be condemning as they jeopardise peace in the region. Thus, the involvement of a small group of UK MEPs inside the European Parliament, supporting the Pakistani ideology, and propagating the spread of information designed to inflame the current situation in Kashmir, is reckless and irresponsible.