Rana Shama Nazir, of the British Kashmiri Womens Council, looks at Labour’s position on Kashmir.
Keir Starmer has a precious few months to define his leadership of the Labour Party.
After this period, the narrative will be already written and it will be almost impossible to change what course the nation believes the party is embarking upon. It is tragic that Keir has underestimated the situation in Kashmir to pander to the BJP.
All it took was for Labour Friends of India to have his ear for a few hours for the hopes of seven million souls crushed under Modi’s nine-month curfew occupation of Kashmir. A conference resolution declaring Kashmir “is a disputed territory and the people of Kashmir should be given the right of self-determination in accordance with UN resolutions” was passed after Indian troops enforced a lockdown, turned off mobile phone coverage and changed the constitution.
Then during the election when nationalists began circulating pro-BJP Whatsapp messages the then chairman of the Labour Party, Ian Lavery, sent a letter undemocratically retreating from the conference position and hanging Kashmiris out to dry.
This led to the Kashmiri community expressing dismay at Labour.
This was a textbook political calamity. By not having the bravery to defend a position they sat on the fence and alienated both sides, including the side which voted Labour.
Anyone knocking doors for Labour in the West Midlands, would have had the dispiriting experience of knocking on Kashmiri voters who have been Labour supporters for decades and being told they are not voting this year.
So considering Labour abandoned Kashmir when they were led by a critic of the far right nationalist BJP it was only a matter of time under the new leader this would be party policy.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how the Indian Government is pursuing a policy of colonialism in Kashmir. There have been an estimated 900,000 Indian troops in the Kashmir Valley since October.
The internet was turned off in a cynical ploy to stop the outside world learning what is happening. And that is not just private residents’ access to the internet, hospitals, schools and local government centres had not been able to use the internet, since August. The Indian Government is turning back the clock to cripple Kashmir’s viability as a modern state. Imagine the internet being shut down in the UK? It would be unthinkable, societies now rely on the internet for travel, banking, health and leisure but in Kashmir this is now an impossibility. Text messaging services and mobile phone connections were also switched off by the Indian Government in August.
In October India turned off the internet, they eased restrictions a few months ago but to a speed which makes uploading any webpage impossible.
Across the world terrified citizens are logging on to find out information about coronavirus hotspots and to help the government identify how many cases there are.
In Kashmir doctors cannot log onto the central health department websites, they cannot share information with other medical personnel or report spikes in cases. This would be the perfect reason for Starmer to call the Indian Government to account, instead he gave Modi a green light to persecute Kashmir.
In the UK we are getting a tiny taste of what the Kashmiri people have been subjected to with the coronavirus lockdown. Unable to go about our daily business for one month has really hit our mental health so imagine what more than seven million Kashmiris have been going through for over nine months.
Labour should have the courage of its convictions and demand the British Government raises the Kashmir issue with the Indian Government. Human rights, decency and doing the right thing have to come in front of trade deals with one of the world’s biggest economies. Whatever political colour politicians are, they should do everything to stop Kashmir’s human rights crisis.
Labour can unite communities and help bring a peaceful settlement to a region contested by nuclear powers, who have previously gone into conflict. By contributing at the UN, the party has the opportunity to bring justice to all faith and ethnic communities affected by the issue and prevent further radicalisation of Kashmiri youth and calm the heightening tensions between India, Pakistan and China.
Rather than divide communities, addressing the long running Kashmir dispute may offer a peaceful solution to decades of turmoil and displacement in the region. Just as in Ireland and Kosovo, Labour used intervention positively the same can be done in Kashmir by bringing all parties to the table.