Peaceful solution to India-Pakistan conflict at risk

Green MEP for the North West of England, Gina Dowding, calls for a condemnatory statement from the UK on the events in Kashmir after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, leaving the region and its residents “virtually cut off from the rest of the world”.

A landscape of Sonmarg in Kashmir with tree and river
A landscape of Sonmarg in Kashmir with tree and river

Image: Flickr / sandeepachetan

The picturesque area of Sonmarg in Kashmir

Gina Dowding
Image
Gina Dowding with representatives from the Kashmir Youth Project
(L-R) Kouser (KYP), Khadija Tily (KYP's CEO), Gina Dowding

Recently, I was delighted to meet representatives from the Kashmir Youth Project (KYP) in Rochdale at a consultation event held by Electricity North West about, among other things, tackling fuel poverty. 

I learned about what was clearly a vibrant community organisation with the motto ‘Engaging, Empowering, Educating’, which offers practical services including a day nursery, an elders’ daycare centre,  business support and training facilities to hire.

My visit came before the sudden revocation by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, on 5 August, an act that upended a decades-old arrangement of the region contested between the two nuclear nations of India and Pakistan and caused uproar around the world.

Since then, the region has been virtually cut off from the rest of the world. With a strict curfew, preemptive detention of opposition political leaders and TV, radio and internet being unavailable, Kashmiris have become inhabitants of an open-air prison.

I'm hearing from constituents around the region about the issue, and it should be of concern to all of us – this is one more legacy of British colonialism whose disastrous impact continues.

The UN and Human Rights Watch have highlighted how, following the latest crackdown, basic freedoms are further at risk in Kashmir, enhancing the possibility of further radicalising a region that has seen 20 years of insurgency against the Indian Government and over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars.

Why has Prime Minister Modi taken this decision now?

India is reducing the possibility of a peaceful solution to a conflict that has kept two nuclear nations at odds for the last 70 years.

Reading several analyses, it is possible to understand how the move is a mixture of political cynicism combined with the realisation that the current international system is the most favourable that it has been in years towards this kind of action. Fewer forces prepared to stand up for human rights and democracy means Mr Modi is likely to receive less criticism than he would have otherwise received.

Revoking Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution and cancelling the exceptionalism of the region is being presented as a measure taken to make Kashmir more secure and prosperous (using the mantle of development as a distraction), but will likely end up weakening the Indian state as a whole. The move will in fact have debilitating effects on the relations between the Indian central states and its nations.

Looking at the bigger international picture, it is possible to see how Modi’s latest move was made possible and aided by an international right-wing climate in which land-grabbing, the destruction of the Amazon and racism have become the new norm.

This is one more legacy of British colonialism whose disastrous impact continues.

By altering the constitutional status of Kashmir, India is reducing the possibility of a peaceful solution to a conflict that has kept two nuclear nations at odds for the last 70 years. A conflict that, should it flare up again, would bring untold human suffering, ruining in the process one of the most beautiful regions in the world.

How has the rest of the world responded?

It is worrying that in this context we are not hearing world leaders taking a strong stance against the move. It proves once again that the defence of human rights, of the right to autonomy and self-determination, have been trampled by a cynical approach to international affairs, one in which money and selling weapons come before human and minority rights and the importance of multi-faith states.

This is an approach that is not only morally wrong, but makes us all less secure.

Looking closer to home, it is depressing that the proponents of a post-Brexit ‘global Britain’,  including the Prime Minister, seem once again unable to make our voice heard in international forums. 

We need the UK Government to advocate for an ethical foreign policy that builds capacity for conflict resolution.

We need the UK Government to advocate for an ethical foreign policy that builds capacity for conflict resolution. The defence of human rights in Kashmir, including freedom of the press and of assembly, should be the starting point for any definitive peace talk.

British foreign policy fiascos have come about because we have ignored the local needs of the population, instead following our allies in starting two decades-old conflicts for which the major victims are Iraqi and Afghani – people who are still paying the price 20 years after the beginning of these conflicts. 

It is time to adopt a new, Green-principled approach to foreign policy, one in which respecting human rights, the environment and minorities are the guiding principles.

Although the next Strasbourg plenary isn’t until September, I will be looking to see how I can use the European Parliamentary urgency resolutions process – which is used to address human rights abuses – and seek, along with my fellow Green MEPs in the UK, to find cross-party agreement for a condemnatory statement on what is happening in Kashmir.

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