Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Justice for Kashmir

Concern about recent violence in Kashmir has been a hot topic of conversation among residents in Sparkbrook last weekend. On Friday, my colleague Councillor Shokat Ali joined a picket of the Indian consulate, and I attended a very large Kashmiri event in Anderton Road mosque on Sunday night. As Open Democracy point out there are real concerns that the Indian security services are operating a shoot-to-kill policy against stone throwers on the streets of Kashmir. Indeed, the authorities there have openly deemed stone throwing a criminal offence punishable with death or a lifetime in prison.’ Even the Israelis have not gone that far, at least not publicly. Investigations have been launched into shocking allegations that Indian soldiers are killing innocent Kashmiris under the pretext that they are ‘terrorists’ in order to claim combat bonuses.

Like the situations in Palestine and Northern Ireland, the roots of this conflict have their origins in the British Empire. Britain bequeathed Kashmir to India against the wishes of the Kashmiri people, when they partitioned the country in 1947. The result of that decision has been decades of brutal occupation and an armed resistance that has cost the lives of many thousands of people, and brought nuclear armed India and Pakistan to the brink of war on at least three occasions.

The ongoing conflict in Kashmir has huge implications for the security of all of South Asia. But when David Miliband, then the Foreign Secretary, spoke of the need for a resolution to the conflict, there was an outcry from the Indian government. They showed they were in no mood for compromise. This may not be surprising after the horror of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, but it is clearly in the long term interests of both Pakistan and India that this issue is resolved. And if there is to be a resolution then there will have to be some compromises. History awaits the emergence of an Indian Nelson Mandela who has the vision to try to bring peace to Kashmir.

Because of its historical connections Britain could play an important role in this, and has a moral responsibility to do so. As David Cameron embarks on a state visit to India today this could be a good opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, so far, he has chosen not to make any public comments, apparently keen not to antagonise the Indians; keen as he is to attract their cash while imposing immigration caps to keep Indian people out of the UK. India is an important economic power, but that should not prevent us speaking up for justice for Kashmir.