The Future of Kashmir
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 29th November, 2016
Throughout the decades that I have been working as a writer and broadcaster on international affairs, one situation has remained frozen — though maybe “frozen” is not quite the right word, as there have been occasional outbursts of armed conflict and longer periods of civil unrest and its suppression. The situation I am talking about is Kashmir, which was the subject of a seminar hosted by Liberal International British Group (LIBG) last night at the National Liberal, and which I chaired. In a nutshell, at the time of the partition of India in 1947 one major geographical area remained incompletely resolved: Kashmir. Should it be part of Pakistan (given its Muslim majority) or in India (which its local ruler preferred). Or should it become an independent state? The United Nations decreed that there should be a plebiscite so that the people of Kashmir could decide for themselves, but that has never happened. The net result is that “Azad” Kashmir is now treated by the Pakistani government as part of Pakistan, while India occupies Jammu-Kashmir. Three times India and Pakistan have gone to war over the issue, though recently there has just been occasional shooting across the so-called Line of Control. Some people argue that as both the South Asian giants have nuclear weapons that now prevents them going into anoher full-scale war, but others maintain that, on the contrary, the fact that they do have nuclear arsenals means that another war could lead to widespread annihilation.
Last night’s seminar was addressed by a line-up of diverse speakers coming from different perspectives. Hina Malik (well-known as a LibDem activist in West London) read out a passionate message from a friend in Srinagar (Indian Kashmir) detailing specific cases of human rights abuses. The LibDem peer Lord (Qurban) Hussain spoke about his frustration when trying to get a meaningful response from the UK government about its commitment to putting pressure on the Indian government over the issue. The writer and academic Nitasha Kaul — herself originally from Srinagar — gave a measured analysis of the current situation citing media and academic sources while Jay Iqbal of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) — a political grouping with widespread support among parts of the UK’s huge Kashmiri diaspora — argued strongly for the international community to do what it can to pressure the Indians to implement a plebiscite, which he believed would deliver a vote in favour of independence. Phil Bennion, Chair of LIBG and a former MEP for the West Midlands, spoke about his experience as the ALDE (European Liberal Democrats) spokesman on South Asia during his time of office in the European Parliament, emphasizing what he saw as the need for a negotiated settlement, which would require a degree of give-and-take from both India and Pakistan. Taken as a whole the panel did not have a single approach to recommend, but the evening was nonetheless a valuable contribution to the debate about what Kashmir’s future should be, united or divided. But that debate is likely to continue for some time.