I beg to move,
That this House notes with grave concern the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers, following the revocation of Articles 370 and 35A from the Indian Constitution in August 2019; further notes the United Nations reports of 14 June 2018 and 8 July 2019 on human rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir; and calls on the Government to work with the United Nations, Commonwealth and wider international community to help ensure that international law is upheld and human rights are protected throughout India, Kashmir and Pakistan.
It is an honour to lead this debate on human rights in Kashmir, as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Kashmir. I extend my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate. Given that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and I applied for this debate back in March 2020, I wonder whether we might have reached a record for the time between something being approved and being debated. None the less, I am grateful that we can now debate an issue that is so important to many of our constituents.
The partition of India into India and Pakistan in 1947 and the cavalier manner in which the governance of Kashmiris was determined without them has led to 74 years of unrest, dozens of UN resolutions, and violence across the line of control and within Indian-administered Kashmir, or IAK, and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, or PAK.
Since I was elected chair of the APPG back in November 2018, its focus has been on the promotion of human rights in all parts of Kashmir. This followed the first ever report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on human rights in Kashmir in July 2018. The report documented human rights abuses in both IAK and PAK, and concentrated in particular on the period between 2016 and 2018, following the unprecedented protests and violence that erupted after the killing of Burhan Wani, the leader of Hizbul Mujahideen, by Indian security forces in 2016—[Interruption.] I do hope that my voice will last till the end of my speech!
The abuses that the United Nations reported in the then Jammu and Kashmir state of Indian-administered Kashmir, and what it noted as the “root causes” that were fuelling local dissent, included the reported killings of civilians by off-duty police and army personnel with impunity; the failure to independently investigate and prosecute widespread reports of sexual violence committed by security services personnel; people reported disappeared with impunity; the detention of thousands of people, including children, under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act 1978, which, for the uninitiated, allowed the state to take a person into preventive detention without trial for up to two years; the obstruction of access to justice, through not just the 1979 Act but the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act 1990, which gives security personnel powers to investigate and arrest without warrants, as well as protecting those personnel under law; and, finally, the obstruction of access to basic medical care for civilians.
The UN report concluded:
“In responding to demonstrations that started in July 2016, Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries...Civil society estimates are that 130 to 145 civilians were killed by security forces between mid-July 2016 and end of March 2018, and 16 to 20 civilians killed by armed groups in the same period. One of most dangerous weapons used against protesters during the unrest in 2016 was the pellet-firing shotgun, which is a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun that fires metal pellets.”
For PAK, the UN reported that
“the human rights violations in this area are of a different calibre or magnitude and of a more structural nature.”
For example, it identified that the Pakistan Government had control over the affairs of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and of Gilgit Baltistan. It identified that the interim constitution of AJK prevents anyone criticising AJK’s accession to Pakistan in contravention of international standards on the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, assembly and association.
Local people in Gilgit Baltistan have been forcibly displaced to make way for the China-Pakistan economic corridor.
Unfortunately, that pattern of abuse will be all too familiar not only to our constituents of Kashmiri heritage, but to those from the Punjab, where similar abuses are taking place. In Kashmir, in particular, it is a matter not only of enormous abuse of human rights but, given the security situation, of international concern because of the tensions. Should the international community not therefore intervene to try to resolve this issue?
We cannot say—this has been said on too many occasions—that this is just a bilateral issue. I will come to that point in a moment.
The last point that was raised is around the discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities. The UN report also noted that the number of armed groups that have been operating across IAK and which were also held responsible for human rights abuses, including kidnappings, killings and sexual violence. The report stated that, despite the Pakistan Government’s denial,
“experts believe that Pakistan’s military continues to support their operations across the Line of Control in Indian-Administered Kashmir.”
The human rights high commissioner made a series of recommendations to both the Indian and Pakistani Governments, and the primary one that covers both is that the rule of law and international human rights must be upheld. Both of these countries are signatories to the universal declaration and they must be upheld.
Specifically, the high commissioner recommended that India repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 and ensure that the 1978 public safety Act was compliant with international law. It was recommended that Pakistan amend the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, bringing it in line with international human rights standards and safeguards as well as amend the interim constitution of AJK and other legislation that limits the rights of freedom of expression and opinion.
Let us fast forward to July 2019 when a second UN report was published. This was meant to be a progress report, but the high commissioner expressed real concerns that very little progress had been made. It noted that the political and military tensions between them, particularly as a result of the Pulwama attack in February, was having an impact on the human rights of Kashmiris on both sides of the line of control.
On 5 August 2019, as Members will know, after the Bharatiya Janata party’s general election win in India, Prime Minister Modi announced the revocation of article 370 in India’s constitution. The effect was to remove the special status afforded to Jammu and Kashmir since partition. A Bill was rapidly approved by both Houses of Parliament, splitting the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two federal territories, Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, with direct rule from Delhi. The revocation of article 370 was also extended to article 35A, which removes the rights of indigenous Kashmiris, and has the potential to alter the distinct demographic character of IAK—a direct contravention of the 2007 UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for bringing this debate to the House. This week, Narendra Modi will be addressing the United Nations General Assembly. Does she agree that it is high time that Narendra Modi is challenged on the breaking of the UN conventions and on the reports of human rights abuses in Kashmir?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that whenever and wherever there are human rights abuses—in whichever country, including our own—we should hold that country to account. That still needs to happen.
Accompanying the changes to India’s constitution, the Indian Government sent tens of thousands of Indian troops to the Kashmir valley, imposed a strict curfew and blocked all communications. In addition, initially hundreds and then thousands of people, including politicians, were detained. The National Federation of Indian Women claims that 13,000 teenage boys, some as young as 14, were imprisoned for up to 45 days, far away from their families.
During the weeks and months that followed, it was difficult to get accurate information about what was happening in IAK. There was an imposed media blackout and the Indian Government refused to allow independent observers to IAK, other than through those carefully choreographed visits. Despite that, there were reports of food and medicines shortages, and ongoing communication issues, especially for non-business purposes. Concerns were also being raised about the restrictions on access to essential healthcare as a result of the lockdown measures. Children’s education was severely disrupted, with parents afraid to let their children out of their sight. Although some of those detained have been released, thousands still remain in prison. In some cases, their families do not know where they are. On top of this, there are very concerning allegations of torture.
It is in this context that in early 2020 the all-party parliamentary Kashmir group decided that a delegation should try to visit IAK and PAK as early as possible in that year. The Kashmiri diaspora in the UK had raised concerns about family members still in Kashmir, and this is still a real concern for our constituents. Unfortunately, the Indian Government did not respond to the APPG’s request to visit. However, through the Pakistani high commissioner in London, to whom I express my sincere thanks, the Pakistani Government agreed to allow the APPG unfettered access to PAK in February 2020. We said who we wanted to meet and where we wanted to go, and that was followed.
During our delegation’s visit, we met Prime Minister Khan and Foreign Minister Qureshi in Islamabad, the Prime Minister and President of Azad Kashmir in Muzaffarabad, and the Pakistan parliamentary committee on Kashmir. We used those meetings to ask pointed questions—and they were pointed—about the reports in the UN human rights report. At the time of our visit, Prime Minister Khan had just brokered a peace deal with Afghanistan, and that was his focus. He said, “This will allow us a bit more freedom also to look at what is happening on the east of our border.” If only we had known then what we know now.
It is fair to say that the pressure that Pakistan now faces along the Durand line has significantly escalated since our visit. As I said last month when we were recalled, the international community must step up and offer support to Pakistan and other third countries as this new wave of Afghan refugees migrates across the border. I sincerely hope, given that Pakistan has been such a strong advocate for human rights in IAK, that when it is engaging with the Taliban, it also speaks about the human rights of all Afghanis.
As much as the APPG delegates enjoyed meeting parliamentarians, I think we would probably say that we were particularly moved by our visit to a refugee camp in Gulpur, where we heard at first hand about the experience of people who had fled from IAK. The visit to the line of control at Chakoti, where we were briefed by the Pakistan military, made us acutely aware of the tensions at the border, and we were shown video footage of civilians apparently being shot at by the Indian military.
I found the briefings from the British high commission and the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan particularly revealing. UNMOGIP confirmed an extensive military presence in Srinagar and especially in IAK, with armed forces personnel every 30 metres or so contributing to the feelings of harassment and being under siege reported by civilians in IAK—and this was pre-covid. With the advent of the covid pandemic, civic society stakeholders reported a double lockdown with further detentions of large numbers of young IAK men in the spring of 2020, when we were all grappling with our first experience of lockdown. The use of other legislation, including the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Order and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act were further examples of infringements by the Indian Government of international and human rights law.
The attack on human rights organisations such as Amnesty International India is another area of grave concern.
I met members of Amnesty just earlier today, and they spoke about their concerns and their inability to do the vital work that they do in supporting human rights around the world because their offices and operations have been shut down by the Indian Government. Does the hon. Lady agree that we need to condemn that and support Amnesty to be able to do its very vital work?
Indeed. The APPG met Amnesty last autumn once we heard about that. If anybody is not familiar with it, please google what has happened; it is quite disturbing.
Amnesty International’s 2020 annual report cites how covid has been used by some countries to quell peaceful dissent, including in IAK and PAK. In IAK, journalists and human rights defenders were questioned for allegedly anti-national activities. The Indian police attacked or summoned 18 journalists for their reporting, and the offices of the Kashmir Times were sealed when its editor sued the Government after their shutdown of internet and telephone services in the region. In PAK last July, doctors peacefully protesting about the lack of security in the region were arrested.
In addition to the human rights issues, the stakeholders whom the APPG met or interviewed raised concern at the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan, and, latterly, India and China—all nuclear powers, making Kashmir a very significant security concern in the world.
The APPG discussed a number of recommendations for the international community, the Indian and Pakistani Governments, the British Government, and the APPG itself. The ones that we drafted in relation to the Government are as follows, and I would be very grateful if the Minister could respond to them: to provide Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office funding to support track 2 diplomacy measures in Kashmir, as well as practical support for Kashmiri refugees; to offer support via the Commonwealth to facilitate crisis talks and peacebuilding in Kashmir; to make the commitment to and delivery of human rights explicit in all UK trade deals, including with India and Pakistan; and to make an annual statement to the House—it is about four years since the last debate on Kashmir on the Floor of the House—on the Government’s contribution to conflict resolution and peacebuilding in Kashmir. Fundamentally, Kashmir must be at the heart of a trilateral peacebuilding process with India and Pakistan.
The APPG has members of Kashmiri, Pakistani, Indian and other heritages. We are passionate about human rights for all our brothers and sisters, at home and abroad. I have tried to be even-handed and to base my remarks on evidence. This is not pro or anti any country; it is definitely pro human rights. The plight of Kashmir is barely in our country’s consciousness, let alone in our media’s. I hope the media who are listening to this debate will notice the passion that we all bring to this subject, and I hope that this debate will change things.
Order. It will be obvious to hon. Members that a great many people wish to catch my eye and that we do not have very much time left this afternoon, so we have to begin with an immediate time limit on Back-Bench speeches of four minutes, which is likely to reduce soon.
The dispute over Jammu and Kashmir is clearly one for India and Pakistan to resolve. That has been the position of successive UK Governments of different political stripes and it is the right one. We should also keep in mind that the whole of Kashmir acceded to India when the country gained its independence in 1947, even if part of the area was subsequently seized and occupied by Pakistan.
The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) raised a number of cases related to the part of Kashmir that is administered by India. As India is a democracy where religious minorities have full constitutional protections and one that places great value on respect for the rule of law, its courts and institutions are well capable of properly investigating alleged human rights abuses. It is right that they do so. In a previous debate in the House, the Minister responding for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office welcomed assurances from the Indian Government that their army was committed to compliance with the law and that disciplinary action would be taken in accordance with the law when necessary.
We should welcome the successful conduct of local elections in October 2019, in which more than 3 million voters in Jammu and Kashmir took part, including minorities such as Valmikis who were enfranchised for the first time. Further elections took place in December last year, despite covid adversity.
We must also recognise the suffering caused in Jammu and Kashmir as a result of terrorism and fundamentalism. An infamous example occurred in January 1990, when 65,000 Hindus were expelled from the Kashmir valley by Islamist jihadists, whose slogan was “Die, convert or leave”. In 1947, a quarter of a million Pandits lived in the Kashmir valley, but few remain after systematic attempts by extremists to force out people who question Pakistan’s involvement in the region. Today’s terrorist groups continue to threaten the security of people in Kashmir. They include Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, which the Indian Government believe all have clear links with Pakistan. There is evidence of arms and equipment from the Pakistan military finding their way into terrorist hands. In June last year, Indian border security forces shot down a China-made drone flying in from the Pakistan side containing armaments.
I appreciate that the repeal of article 370 has provoked controversy, but it has been accompanied by a concerted push to improve prosperity and economic opportunity for people living in the region. Extensive investment is under way to improve water supplies, roads, bridges, technology, agriculture, tourism and industrial development. Rules that denied certain property rights to women who married men from other parts of India have been scrapped because article 370 has gone and better protection for minorities such as the Paharis has also been introduced.
Last but not least, we must welcome the efforts by the Indian Government to grapple with the covid crisis, which has seen testing and vaccination rates in Jammu and Kashmir among the best in the country. While no doubt this issue will divide the House as it has in the past, I hope that we can all agree on the importance of all sides engaging positively together to build a better, brighter and more stable future for all the people of Jammu and Kashmir.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) for setting out the issues at the heart of the debate. The truth is, the Kashmir struggle has gone on a long while, spanning many decades, and tens and thousands of people have died. Many hon. Members will be familiar with the history, so I will concentrate on what happened just two years ago.
On 4 August 2019, phone lines in Kashmir went dead and internet connections were cut. A day later, 7 million people were locked in their homes in a strict and brutal military curfew. Almost 10,000 people, from young people to former politicians, were arrested and indefinitely detained. Some are still in detention. A day later, a Bill was passed in the Indian Parliament stripping Kashmir of its autonomy and special status. It was stripped of its statehood and identity, to be governed directly by New Delhi.
In the last two years, human rights groups have documented the everyday reality of that governance for Kashmiris: mass arrests and raids, torture, the suppression of free assembly, the crushing of the Kashmiri press, the decimation of the local economy, the crippling of the education system, the incarceration of thousands of people, the conversion of hotels and guesthouses into detention centres and the gagging of Kashmiri civil society. Censorship has been institutionalized and journalism has been criminalised.
Until recently, Kashmir had the longest internet shutdown ever imposed by a democracy. The curfew and communication siege also meant no access to doctors or hospitals, no work, no businesses, no schools and no contact with loved ones lasting for many months. We experienced the covid lockdown here, except that ours was without a military curfew and without a communication siege, and still it brought our world to its knees, testing our endurance and sanity. Think of Kashmir and what people have to put up with under a dense military deployment and surrounded by a maze of barbed wire on their street. Imagine soldiers breaking into your home. It is incomparable suffering.
Only a few weeks ago, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern over “grave violations” in Kashmir, urging the Indian Government to end the use of shotgun pellets against children. Yes, that’s right—the use of shotgun pellets on children. But the use of these pellets is not new in Indian-administered Kashmir. In 2016, there was a report that more than 1,100 people were partially blinded in what was considered by some to be the world’s first mass blindings. There were reports that some victims were children, some as young as 19 months old.
On top of this is the domicile law, which opened the floodgates to land grabs by allowing Indians from the other parts of India to reside in Kashmir. That means that the state subject certificates of Kashmiris are legally void, unless they are used as evidence for their application to the Indian Government for domiciled status in their own country. Those whose applications are rejected could be denied residency in their own country and deported. Kashmiris are facing a cultural erasure.
Let me be clear: we are not against India—it is a beautiful country—but that does not mean that we should not hold the Indian Government, and particularly this BJP Government, to account for their abusive behaviour. We in this Parliament talk about girls’ rights in Afghanistan, but what about girls’ rights in Indian-occupied Kashmir? They just as much have rights as well.
India most allow the UN observers free and unfettered access to visit Kashmir and assess the situation. I know some Members will stand up and say none of what I have said is correct. In that case, I would say: why doesn’t the Indian Government allow in outside independent observers?
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. The situation in Kashmir is of so much importance to people right across the United Kingdom. Of course, this is no different in Keighley, which is home to many British Pakistani Kashmiris, many of whom have loved ones in the region. I must take this opportunity to thank all of my constituents who have contacted me—be it through face-to-face meetings, on social media, through letter or email—expressing their deep concern about the abhorrent human rights issues that are happening in Kashmir. I hear their concerns, which is why at the beginning of this year I took the opportunity to speak on this very topic, expressing my ongoing concerns to Government Ministers in this place.
Kashmir has been living under heavy lockdown restrictions since August 2019, following the special status of Jammu and Kashmir being revoked by India. We should be clear about what this actually means: no foreign journalists being allowed into Jammu and Kashmir by the Indian Government; and thousands of people being arrested without any due cause and facing harassment and imprisonment—lawyers, small business owners, journalists, students and, of course, human rights activists. Phone lines have been blocked and internet access taken away. Although some communication has been restored, it is still very patchy and heavily controlled by the Government. Education has been severely disrupted. Legal reforms have been made so that residents’ property rights can be revoked. Properties have been destroyed and innocent people are losing their lives.
Yesterday, I received a letter from the High Commissioner of Pakistan in which His Excellency wished to bring me up to speed on the continuing violations of human rights and human dignity perpetrated by India in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. It is reported that 3,431 cases of war crimes have been perpetrated by the Indian forces in this disputed territory. I have been informed that more than 1,000 houses have been destroyed since special status was revoked. All that, quite rightly, is causing a huge amount of concern for many of my constituents across Keighley. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi), who cannot be here today, shares my concerns.
There are reports of brutalism of Kashmiri society being made possible through draconian laws, the sole aim of which is to perpetrate the occupation and facilitate violence with impunity. As elected politicians in the United Kingdom, we cannot decide on domestic policy in another country, but we can use our influence to ensure that this terrible situation is investigated, and that our Government use their weight and influence to put on pressure to seek a solution.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case; this will give him a little more time in a moment. Does he agree that we need to say to those people in India, and indeed in Pakistan, who would prefer us not to debate these matters, that we have no choice because so many of our constituents have friends and family in the area, and perhaps even their own homes there?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We are here to represent our constituents, who have loved ones in Kashmir and are deeply concerned about the horrific situation that is continuing.
The UK’s fundamental values are freedom and democracy. That applies not only to the situation in Kashmir, but right across the world, and of course we are seeing a terrible situation in China with the Uyghur Muslims. I would like UN human rights officials to get access to both sides of the lines of control to find out the facts. India and Pakistan are both long-standing friends of our country and that is strengthened by large Indian and Pakistani communities across the UK. But a solution to the situation in Kashmir must be sought. After all, both countries are nuclear powers. The solution must be sought at speed.
Let me set this out clearly. For more than 70 years, the sons and daughters of Kashmir have been subjected to persecution, oppression and injustice in the most brutal manner. For more than 70 years, they have been butchered, maimed and killed at the hands of an occupying Indian military, operating under the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. For more than 70 years, they have had their rights eroded, their freedoms stripped away and their self-determination denied. But what we saw two years ago, with the right-wing Modi Government unilaterally revoking articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, in direct contravention of United Nations resolutions and of international law, and a war crime under the fourth Geneva convention, is the biggest assault that we have seen on the right to self-determination for Kashmiris and a clear attempt by the right-wing Modi Government to quash the Kashmiri cause.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does he agree that, after decades of oppression and the denial of human rights and of self-determination, the illegal revocation of articles 370 and 35A by the Government of India not only breaches international law, but is a deliberate attempt to quash the Kashmiri people? Furthermore, it is deeply disturbing that the United Nations Security Council meeting shortly after those revocations could not even agree a statement of condemnation.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a critical juncture for the future of Kashmir. Today’s debate, sadly, will be another debate where we list a raft of grave human rights abuses that are taking place in Indian-occupied Kashmir. It will be another debate where we call for action against those perpetrating these grave crimes, and demand that numerous UN resolutions finally be upheld, only to be told by Ministers that this is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. Madam Deputy Speaker, human rights are never a bilateral issue. The right to self-determination is never a bilateral issue. The right of a people to determine their own destiny is never a bilateral issue. It is always an international issue. What message do we in this House send to the Kashmiris? Does a Kashmiri child not feel the same pain as any other child? Does a Kashmiri child not bleed in the same way as any other child? Is a Kashmiri child’s life not worth the same as any other child’s?
We raise these issues time and again, but Kashmiris are still subjected to appalling human rights abuses at the hands of a brutal occupying military force. If the UK and the rest of the international community continue to remain silent and continue to refuse to uphold UN resolutions, and the right-wing Modi Government continue to actively ignore them to unilaterally quash the Kashmiri struggle, what is the point of us talking here? And what is the point of the United Nations when it cannot even enforce and implement its own resolutions? We have to start asking these very serious questions. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) makes the fine point that soon after the revocation of articles 370 and 35A, the United Nations Security Council met and could not even agree a statement of condemnation. That is shameful.
We are at a critical point that will decide the future of Kashmir forever. Just talking about Kashmir will no longer suffice, because while we talk and debate, innocent Kashmiri men, women and children continue to be cut down in the streets, and their right to self-determination is eroded further by the day. Instead, we must start demanding and forcing real action by our Government and the international community.
As a proud British Kashmiri, I cannot do justice to this debate in four minutes; those who have seen me in this Chamber know that I have spoken in, instigated and led debates time and again. But my final comment, as a proud British Kashmiri, will be this, and let me be absolutely crystal clear about it. The Kashmiris are not begging the international community. The Kashmiris do not bow before the international community. The Kashmiris around the world unite to demand our birth right to self-determination and to determine our own destiny.
I will endeavour not to be so passionate as the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain). I declare my interest as the co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for India and, I believe, the last serving Member of this House to visit Srinagar and interact with the people of Jammu and Kashmir directly.
I begin with the simple premise that in 1947, the late Maharaja ceded the entirety of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir to India, so the illegal occupation by Pakistan of part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir should cease, its military operation should go home, the line of control should be removed, and all the terrorist bases that exist on the Pakistani line of control should be ceased and dismantled.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I agree that all the United Nations resolutions that date back from 1947 should be implemented, the first being that the illegal occupation by Pakistan of Jammu and Kashmir should cease. When that is done, we can talk about the other United Nations resolutions.
Before the abrogation of article 370, the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir existed under different laws from the rest of India. It is important that we look—particularly those opposed to the abrogation of article 370—at the civil liberties that have been restored to the citizens as a result of the abrogation. India has changed its constitution over the years, as a developing country with a progressive view, but of course the laws in Jammu and Kashmir were frozen because of article 370, which was always envisaged as a temporary measure. What happened? I think we should review this, because all those who complain about civil rights should remember what happened.
Under the law, prior to the abrogation of article 370, Kashmiri women were not entitled to ownership of property. If they married someone from out of the state, they lost their property rights. How is that acceptable? Indian women are protected against domestic violence under a comprehensive Act of the Indian Parliament. Until the abrogation of article 370, no such protection was provided to women in Kashmir. Under Indian law, Muslim women are protected against the triple talaq—a man saying, “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you” and that is the end of it, with no protection for women. Of course, now that article 370 has been abrogated, they now have that protection. Under Indian law, it is illegal for children under the age of 14 to be married. Prior to the abrogation of article 370, children under the age of 14 could be married. Under article 35A, the Hindu Kashmiri Pandit population was expelled at the point of a gun by Islamist forces. Now, they have the potential to return. Equally, local government has been restored to Jammu Kashmir under the revocation of article 370.
Kashmir Valley is a beautiful place to see. There is the opportunity for tourism, culture, trade, hydro-electric power and many other aspects. However, it has been tainted by multiple mass exoduses, terrorist attacks, killings, child marriages and forced conversions by radical Islamist terrorists. We should remember that while the Kashmir Valley may be predominantly Muslim, Jammu is predominantly Hindu and Ladakh predominantly Buddhist. The fact is that the historically persecuted religious minorities—Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, women and children—have, unfortunately, suffered in the valley.
The heavy military presence in civilian settlements is definitely a threat to a democratic ethos, but just imagine—we saw what happened in Afghanistan—if the troops were withdrawn and the protections were not there. The plight of Jammu Kashmir would be the same as Afghanistan, with Islamist forces coming in and eliminating democracy in the area. It is only the Indian army and the sound footing of the Indian military and democracy that has stopped the region of Jammu and Kashmir from resembling Taliban-occupied Afghanistan. It only makes sense for them to do so because the region is legally and rightfully an integral part of the Republic of India. The world must come to that, and colleagues must recognise that reality.
I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for ensuring that this debate has been granted time in the Chamber, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) for the excellent way she opened, in such an even-handed manner, the debate on human rights abuses in Kashmir.
I came to have an interest in the situation in Kashmir when I was visited by a small delegation of British Kashmiri constituents at my surgery in Stockport Labour club several years ago. I have a very small minority ethnic community in my constituency, and of that small minority ethnic community the Kashmiri population is a fragment. However, I was taken by the passion and commitment of my Kashmiri community to their cause and concerns; a very similar kind of passion to that we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain). That led me to look a bit further into the situation in Kashmir, and quite frankly I was shocked by what I found out. Many of the issues have already been raised in this debate; I will not repeat them, because they are already on the record and time is short.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the reports of crackdowns on freedoms of expression in Kashmir should concern us all across the House? One thing that would help to bring light, not heat, to these debates is making sure that everybody can be heard freely, especially those on the ground, and that Kashmiris can speak their mind about what is happening, because we know that at the moment that is not happening.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The most basic and fundamental human rights, which each and every one of us in the House and each and every one of our constituents enjoys and takes for granted, are denied to too many people living in Kashmir. That is wrong. As parliamentarians, as democrats and as believers in human rights, we should call out and condemn those abuses, not just in Kashmir but wherever they occur across the world.
I am particularly concerned about this seven-decade injustice because the most basic and most fundamental human right, from which all other rights derive, is people’s right to choose by whom they are governed and how they are governed. That is the crux of it. That is the right that the people of Kashmir have been denied.
I will make no particular biased remarks about who should govern the Kashmiris. I do not care whether it is India, Pakistan or the Kashmiri people themselves—that is for the people of Kashmir to decide. That is what they have been denied, and it is what they have been promised in a United Nations resolution.
I implore the Minister, who is new in post and whom I welcome to her position in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, to do all she can to use what influence the United Kingdom has to bring all interested parties to the table from the United Nations, the Commonwealth, India, Pakistan and—most importantly of all—Kashmir itself, to start talks and try to find a successful resolution.
What is clear from all the reports that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth outlined is that two wrongs do not make a right. The fact of the matter is that there are people on both sides of the line of control whose human rights, to some extent or another, are being affected and withdrawn. We should ensure that their rights are protected and upheld and that their most basic and fundamental human right—to decide by whom they are governed and how they are governed—is finally put to the people. That is why I am proud to stand here today as the chair of Labour Friends of Kashmir.
I congratulate the chair of the all-party parliamentary Kashmir group, the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), on her work. I am grateful for the opportunity to be one of her vice-chairs.
In the limited time available, I want to focus on one specific issue: the alleged use of cluster munitions by India along the line of control. I received a letter from the high commission for Pakistan on 21 May 2020, which explains:
“India struck the habitation of civilians along LoC on 30th July 2019, with cluster bombs;
9 villages were hit in the District Neelum of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, namely: Jabri; Chilliana; Rajgan; Pahallan; Patti Jageer; Nausadda; Nauseri; Garhi Dupatta; & Qaiser Kot”.
Seventeen cluster bombs—I will come back to this point—were used by the Indian army. Three of them exploded, resulting in 18 casualties—four people killed and 14 injured—while the remaining 14 bombs were defused. The high commission writes:
“On 5th August 2019, Military attaches from 5 countries, including the UK, were taken to the site. Delegation also interacted with victims of cluster bombs;
Evidence collected…has been preserved”.
I have received a rather upsetting dossier from Pakistan and have written to the Government with the allegations and with the dossier. In particular, the dossier shows the remnants of what appear to be cluster munitions having been used.
If the British Government had one of our military attachés on site, it is extremely important that we should know whether cluster munitions were used. If India did not use cluster munitions, then a great nation such as India should not stand accused, but if it did use cluster munitions, I would consider that a crime against humanity, and I will explain why.
I was a Royal Air Force officer 25 years ago, and I will never forget watching cluster bombs being dropped. I invite Members to consider two aircraft coming through at 450 knots and 300 feet, each dropping a pair of weapons which, when they come off the aircraft, spin fast and throw about 174 bomblets. They will scatter across an area 1,000 feet by 500 feet per pair, and not all of them will explode. That area will be covered with fire, smoke, shrapnel and death—a very effective weapon against columns of tanks and mixed infantry in the Soviet era, perhaps, but a totally unacceptable weapon to use against civilians and villages. I consider it a crime against humanity that such a thing should have been used. The Government replied that they were
“aware of reports of the use of cluster munitions”
but otherwise there was a degree, if I may say, of equivocation.
As India develops and emerges and becomes an ever-greater power, I am aware of the importance to the whole world that it turns towards the maritime, liberal, market democracies, such as us, the United States and the countries of the trans-Pacific partnership, and becomes a country that promotes peace and prosperity, not towards China or Russia or authoritarianism. However, around one in six of my constituents is a British Kashmiri, and some people will have property in Kashmir like others have property in France. When a man shows me an image of his house on the line of control burning because it has been shelled and tells me that his family were in that house not long before, what is going to happen if British people and their children get killed and maimed because they happen to be in their homes on the line of control when India uses cluster bombs? The situation must be established and dealt with, and the Government have a duty.
I start by thanking my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) for securing this important debate on human rights in Kashmir. As a Bradford MP, I am proud to represent a city with such close links to Kashmir. I share many of my constituents’ deep concerns for the situation unfolding in the region. We need a solution that protects the human rights of the Kashmiri people and establishes the democratic right of self-determination. I strongly believe that this Government have not done enough and must redouble their efforts and take a more active role in securing a safe and peaceful future for Kashmir. The issue is of international concern and demands an international solution.
The United Kingdom must stand firmly against human rights abuses wherever they occur in the world and must be vocal in support for those suffering from such abuses. It is our humanity that unites us, and human rights abuses should not and cannot be ignored. That means that we need more than just words of reassurance. With so many allegations of serious human rights, this is not just some faraway foreign policy, because an abuse of human rights is an abuse of humanity. An abuse of human rights anywhere is an abuse to human rights everywhere. It is what binds us, and it must not be what divides us.
I thank my hon. Friend and many colleagues for so clearly setting out the case. Does she share the frustration and, frankly, the anger of my constituents that not only has this issue remained unresolved for so long, but it seems to be deteriorating? Justice and peace seem further away than ever, and Government action seems so limited and slow.
I absolutely agree, and I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue.
The unilateral revocation of article 370 of the Indian constitution, which granted special status to Kashmir, was an outrageous act which has undermined long-term efforts towards peace in the region. Following that revocation, in February last year, I visited Kashmir as part of a cross-party delegation of the Kashmir all-party parliamentary group to see for myself what was going on in the region. We had wanted to travel to India as well, but our chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth, was famously denied entry and promptly deported, so we visited Kashmir and Pakistan, where we were granted unfettered access. We met many people, including the then President of Kashmir, Mr Masood Khan, and visited the line of control. I also visited the Gulpur refugee camp to hear directly from displaced people. There I saw at first hand the direct impact of the situation on those people—ordinary people, who told me of the injustices and abuses that they had endured. They wanted nothing more than for their children and loved ones to grow up safely.
The continuing injustices experienced by the people of Kashmir are unacceptable. They face oppression, threats of violence and imprisonment, and rape is routinely used as a weapon of war. The human rights that are considered a certainty in this country are still beyond the grasp of the ordinary people of Kashmir. I condemn these injustices, and I will continue to press the Government, and international partners, for action until the human rights that we enjoy are restored for the people of Kashmir, and until dignity and justice are secured for those people.
I am an officer of the Kashmir all-party parliamentary group, and, along with the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and the chair, went to Kashmir. This was within two or three months of my election, and I thought it important to go to Kashmir and the line of control, and to ask people in Kashmir about their everyday experiences of being in this appalling situation. I visited the refugee camp to which the hon. Member for Bradford South referred, and we saw the injuries and obtained at first hand testimony from people who had been victims of torture. We are not getting this information from newspaper articles; it is first-hand evidence from people to whom we spoke, and who had been treated in the most appalling manner.
We could all engage in a lengthy historical analysis of the geopolitical issues affecting Kashmir, but this debate is entitled “Human Rights in Kashmir”, and the 2018 United Nations report on the situation of human rights in Kashmir is my starting point. Paragraph 22 states:
“There remains an urgent need to address past and ongoing human rights violations”—
it is not India or Pakistan that is saying this; it is the United Nations—
“and to deliver justice for all people in Kashmir who have been suffering seven decades of conflict.”
How on earth could anyone disagree with that?
The United Nations should have it as its central mission to support a peace process that will give justice to the people of Kashmir, and in my view that is about self-determination—about the right of people to choose how they want to be governed. We can go back to revolutions from 1947 onwards, and place on them any historical interpretation that we choose, but the basic, underlying principle is that the people of Kashmir should have the right to decide their own futures. How is it possible that we can ever advance an argument to suggest that the freedoms that we enjoy in this country should not be enjoyed elsewhere? How can we possibly put forward an argument that skirts around the issue, and say that we can tolerate clear human rights abuses, whether for political reasons or for any other reason?
I agree with the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain). I think that the United Nations needs to step up to the plate, at the very least. I think that it has let this region down. Resolutions are tabled for a reason. If they are not enforced—if they are not enacted—what is the point of them? If the United Nations cannot enforce or enact its own resolutions, why should we trust it in the future in respect of these issues?
I am proud to represent thousands of constituents of Kashmiri heritage. Before my election I was a councillor in Bury for a long time. I did not know about this issue. I have learned from my friends; I have learned from people on the ground; I have learned and learned and learned about the human rights abuses that happen on a daily basis. I am a lawyer, and I have heard at first hand of people being detained without trial for two years and, the day before the two years are up, they get detained for another two years. It is absolutely appalling. Rape, torture and mass killings are not being investigated. The Indian Army treats Kashmiris in any way it chooses with impunity, and we as an international community tolerate that. Can we look ourselves in the mirror if we continue to do that?
The realistic outcome is that the United Kingdom Government cannot act alone. We can, however, use our influence in the United Nations and other international bodies to support all those who wish to be part of the movement to protect universal human rights and the rule of law and to give justice to the Kashmiri people, which the United Nations says should be our central mission. We must do that.
I would like to make sure that everyone who wishes to catch my eye has an opportunity to speak. Therefore, after the next speaker, I will reduce the time limit to three minutes—[Interruption.] There is no point in people sighing. The debate must finish at 5 o’clock and the only way to get everyone in is to reduce the time limit to three minutes.
I want to begin by thanking the Backbench Business Committee for arranging this important debate today. Our country has a proud history of standing up for human rights globally, but the Government seem to be burying their head in the sand when it comes to Kashmir. The Foreign Office’s 80-page long 2020 human rights and democracy report does not even mention Kashmir once. Is that because there were no human rights violations in the region in the last year? No. As we have heard today, all the evidence suggests otherwise. The charity Human Rights Watch’s 2020 human rights report paints a very different picture. For example, it found that the Indian security forces have continued to use shotguns firing metal pellets to disperse crowds, despite the indiscriminate and life-changing injuries they inflict. I raised the Indian Government’s use of these pellet guns in the House more than four years ago, and still things have not changed.
Throughout my time in this place, I have raised the plight of Kashmiris many times. In 2017, I spoke of the shocking human rights abuses going on there and called on the Government to use their diplomatic powers and membership of the UN Security Council to secure lasting peace in the region. However, four years later peace seems as far away as ever, and Kashmiris are still being denied their basic human rights.
It has been over two years since the Indian Government of Narendra Modi revoked article 370, stripping Jammu and Kashmir of their autonomy. In that time, we have seen countless examples of brutal actions by the security forces to quash the democratic freedoms of Kashmiris; the reality is that we simply do not know the scale of the human rights abuses in Kashmir. Why? Because ever since the revocation of article 370 in 2019 the Indian Government have tightly controlled the circulation of information in the region. Opposition politicians, foreign diplomats and international journalists have been barred from entering. Local journalists have been routinely harassed and threatened by security forces, and internet access has been tightly restricted.
Over the last 18 months, we have all experienced lockdowns and limitations on where we can go and who we can see, but just imagine having to go through all that without a phone or internet services. That has been the grim reality for millions of Kashmiris since 2019. Services were blocked altogether for months, and even when basic 2G broadband was restored in some areas in 2020, social media websites and communication platforms were blocked. Many Kashmiris living in my constituency of Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough went months without being able to speak to loved ones in Kashmir due to the blackout. Only in February this year has 4G been restored throughout the region.
Sadly, stories such as these are far from uncommon. Given the ban on foreign journalists, we rely on local reporters for information on the situation in the region. The global community must stand by them against attacks on their human rights. Two years on from the revocation of article 370, Kashmiris’ human rights continue to be abused. The international community must come together to put an end to these injustices. Diplomats and UN officials must be able to enter the region and fully assess the human rights situation. For too long, the UK Government have ignored the plight of Kashmiris, and now is the time for us to play our part in building lasting peace for all those whose lives and livelihoods depend on it.
I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this important debate.
The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) rightly said that awareness of this issue is not widespread in this country, but lots of people and Kashmiri human rights organisations in my city and in communities across the country are working hard to spread awareness. This debate is, in part, down to them and their hard work. I thank Friends of Kashmir in Peterborough, Abdul Choudhuri, Mohammad Choudhary, Ghafarat Shahid, Mohammad Ikram and Mohammad Yousaf for all their work in highlighting this issue.
What happens in Kashmir matters in Peterborough, not just because we have a 20,000 Kashmiri diaspora population in my city but because if we care about human rights, we care about Kashmir. I suggest that all hon. Members care about human rights and, if they do, they should reflect on the murder, torture, rape and all the other atrocities happening in Indian-occupied Kashmir. My hon. Friends the Members for Dewsbury (Mark Eastwood), for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), who cannot be here today, care deeply about these issues, too.
In another world, I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims, and it is incumbent on British Muslims to be aware that this Government and all hon. Members in the Chamber today care about atrocities and human rights abuses carried out against their fellow Muslims across the world. I ask the Minister to think about it carefully. Just as we care about injustice against the Rohingya and the Uyghur, we also care about injustice against the Kashmiris.
The hon. Gentleman mentions persecution against many peoples, and there is anti-Christian violence in Kashmir, too. Christians have their churches burned and there is forced conversion of Christians by brutal force, physical and sexual violence, rape and murder. Christians need equality in Kashmir, too.
The hon. Gentleman must have read my mind, because I was going to come on to that next. Just as we care about atrocities against the Rohingya and the Uyghur and about persecuted Christians around the world, we must make sure that we stand up for persecuted Muslim communities, too.
I completely reject the argument that, somehow, to care about human rights in Kashmir is anti-Indian. India is the seventh largest country in the world by land area and it has the second largest population, at 1.2 billion. India’s list of economic and other achievements is impressive, but the ongoing human rights situation in Kashmir does not benefit India at all. If India wants to take its place as one of the great world powers, surely the human rights abuses in Kashmir hold it back and make people feel differently about India.
I stand with the hundreds of millions of Indians across the world and with the Indian diaspora in this country who care about human rights. This is not just a Muslim issue. Ordinary people in this country care about human rights, and that includes our Indian diaspora population.
This is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan, and we face our own territorial arguments on the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar. We will never negotiate the sovereignty of Gibraltar or the Falkland Islands without consulting the Gibraltarians or the Falkland islanders themselves. We say that self-determination for these people is important, and if it is good enough for the people of the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar, it is good enough for the people of Kashmir.
I thank the all-party group and its brilliant chair for bringing us a brilliant and balanced debate today, but without the brilliant persistence of the Kashmiri diaspora in this country we would not be here today. If the abuses happening in Kashmir were happening here and I were watching from afar, I would hope that I had the resilience and persistence that British Kashmiris have shown.
I want to raise some specific cases of the thousands of Kashmiris detained without charge, an issue that has already been raised by some hon. Members. I want to draw attention to two particular cases, the first being that of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a man regarded as one of the top leaders in Kashmir. Mr Geelani dedicated most of his life to spearheading the resistance movement, pushing for a movement that worked to educate people and mobilising them to organise a peaceful struggle. Mr Geelani had spent the last 11 years under house arrest and, sadly, he passed away at the age of 92. His last wishes were to be buried at the martyrs’ graveyard in Srinagar, but he was denied this opportunity. His family reported that the police raided their family home in the middle of the night, thrashing family members in the process and dragged his body from his home.
The second case is that of Ashraf Sehrai, another man who dedicated his life to the Kashmiri cause and suffered as a result. Mr Sehrai, a 77-year-old man, was in “preventive detention”—for which read “without charge”—since July 2020, with his family unable to see him for five months as meetings were barred, perhaps because of covid-19. Mr Sehrai had complained of poor health and a lack of medical treatment while in prison. He sadly passed away, alone in hospital, from respiratory distress and was only granted a quick burial in the middle of the night. These acts of brute force and the treatment of political prisoners leave one more scar on the memories of the Kashmiri people.
As always when an international conflict is happening, I ask myself: where are the women? Where are the women of Kashmir, who have been carrying the heaviest burden in the ongoing three-decade conflict? Not surprisingly, although it is still dismaying, the reporting and information collated about abuse against Kashmiri women is slim at best. When my office was looking into this, we came across some amazing young women graffiti artists in Srinagar who are using their voices bravely, against huge threat and opposition, to fight against the patriarchy—go on girls!—and against the human rights abuses happening to their families. If a young girl with so much to lose by speaking out against the human rights abuses in Kashmir can find a way, why are we not speaking with such passionately strong voices, with the power that the British Government have?
This debate, for me, is about our ideals as a nation—the values we hold of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and how we propel them on to the world stage. It is also about the Kashmiri people. They did not ask for people to pick a side between India and Pakistan, but what they do ask of the UK, as a global force for good, is that we stand true to our values. We have one of the largest diplomatic networks of any country and a history that embeds us in Kashmir, and we have an obligation to use both of those things to make a difference. Indian-administered Kashmir, Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Aksai Chin are three areas controlled by three very big players, all armed with nuclear weapons. If there is any reason to try to fix this issue, that is it, because individual people and families are paying the price for that contest.
As many right hon. and hon. Members have said, in August 2019 India revoked article 370 of its constitution. That article provided for significant autonomy. If we had done something like that in this country, it would be like ripping up the entire devolution settlement. No one in this House would stay silent on that. We have a significant diaspora across this country who care. There are those who say we should not take an interest and should not debate and discuss in this House, but I certainly will not ever stop speaking up for my constituents, and there are thousands of them who care deeply about this issue. Human rights concern us all: they are not negotiable and they do not change based on location; they unite us here and around the world. We must stand tall and stand firm.
In the few seconds I have remaining, I want to make a point about communications in Kashmir, because that is what my constituents care most about. They have family members and friends in Kashmir whom they were unable to speak to for months. If we can make one plea to the Indian Government, it is that they should never again not allow our constituents to speak to the friends and family they care so deeply about.
I begin by paying tribute to Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who passed away on 1 September. He dedicated his life to Kashmir and the freedom of Kashmiris. I deplore the actions of the Indian Government in not allowing a proper funeral to take place and his burial without the funeral happening.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend’s point.
In south Asia, the long-drawn-out dispute over the state of Jammu and Kashmir remains a hanging fireball between two hostile nuclear neighbours, India and Pakistan. It has brought human misery in the form of wars and human rights violations, and continues to threaten regional and global peace. My role is not to take sides, such as being pro-Pakistan or anti-India; I believe that as a Kashmiri it is my duty to highlight the abuses and human rights violation to this House.
Even after seven decades, the people of the former Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir are waiting for their right of self-determination, as promised by the United Nations. Notwithstanding more than 25 UN resolutions calling for solutions to the dispute, India is reluctant to grant Kashmiris their right to self-determination. The Scottish people were rightly afforded a referendum to express their desire for independence, and the UK had a referendum on remaining in or leaving the EU. Kashmiris are not begging for their freedom, and nor will they beg; it is their birthright and, eventually, it will be achieved.
The Indian occupation of Kashmir is not something that can be or should be left to India and Pakistan. Let me be absolutely clear: this is not a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan; the international community needs to take responsibility. The British Government have a responsibility: this is another example of the mess left by the British Government in 1947. We cannot turn our backs to the people of Kashmir and say it is absolutely nothing to do with us. This is an issue of international significance on which the UK should take a leading role, given its historical involvement in the situation.
In February of 2020, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), who is well known for her activism and support for the Kashmiri people, was denied entry to India and essentially deported without any suitable explanation given by the Indian Government. In essence, entry was denied because of her high-profile work supporting the self-determination of the Kashmiri people. British parliamentarians, Indian politicians sympathetic to the Kashmiris and international observers are all denied access to Indian-occupied Kashmir.
Earlier this month, China’s ambassador to the UK was prevented from entering Parliament to attend a meeting with the all-party parliamentary group on China. The initiative came about because of protests by the Speaker and Lord Speaker in response to China imposing travel bans on five MPs and two peers. I ask, with the same justification, that measures be taken against the Indian high commissioner, who is still allowed on the parliamentary estate. It seems that we are prepared to take action against China but not India. This is clearly a case of double standards, and it is why I demand that the Indian high commissioner be barred from the parliamentary estate, pending an end to the military occupation of Kashmir.
I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) for securing this Backbench Business debate.
As a son of Kashmir, with parental heritage from Kashmir, I should have been really happy that my hon. Friends had secured this debate, but when I looked at what we would achieve, I was not at all pleased. The reason I am not pleased is this: we are here for this debate on a Thursday afternoon for a couple of hours; we have just three minutes to speak because of the time that is available; and then there is the interest that is being shown on this very issue by other parliamentarians. I am not pleased because, today, there is no Whip. When there is no Whip, there is no vote. When there is no vote, we have a discussion between ourselves. The discussion has no real meaning in our proceedings. When we get up to speak on important issues such as this, it is important for us that we actually have a purposeful debate. We need to put a vote before the Government to show the strength of feeling from all of parts of this House and to show what the issue of Kashmir means to us.
I intervened on the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and asked him who took the issue of Kashmir to the United Nations. It was Pandit Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister. He did so because he knew that when Maharaja Hari Singh had to abdicate from the post, he had not acceded to either one of the countries. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) might laugh, but that is accurate.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene on him. Does he not accept that the Kashmiri Pandits, in any type of vote or plebiscite, should have the right to be considered as part of Kashmir and, therefore, those refugees who live in Jammu and the rest of the world should also have that right? Who then determines who would participate in a plebiscite?
The plebiscite would be determined by the United Nations. Every Kashmiri, whether a Pandit, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian member of the heritage of Kashmir, has a right to vote in that plebiscite. Every Kashmiri of any religion, faith or creed is a Kashmiri by nature. It is important for all of us to recognise that, which is why I wanted to make that point. That is why it was important to keep article 370 and 35A, because that is what the United Nations had pushed for. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned tourism in his speech. Fantastic! Can I go to Kashmir as a person of Kashmiri heritage? My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth tried but was not allowed.
Following the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali), I think all of us should apply to the Indian High Commission for a visa to go to Kashmir. When all of us do not get a visa to do that, we should then put forward a motion to Mr Speaker and to the Lord Speaker to ensure that the Indian high commissioner is not allowed in this place at all. This is about people who continue to be subjugated by an armed force—more than half a million armoured people—in their land. Those forces subjugate the rights of women, using rape as a form of collective torture. That is not acceptable in any form of society and we should not accede to that.
After the events of the last century, by now we should all know what a fascist party of Government looks like, speaks like and acts like. By extension, we should also know what illegal occupation and ethnic cleansing looks like. However, despite knowing this, we fail in our duty to act. Knowing the BJP’s projected journey towards genocide, we are not doing what we should do. Members should not just take it from me. Genocide Watch exists
“to predict, prevent, stop, and punish genocide”,
and its “ten stages of genocide” model has been used by the US State Department and the UN. Genocide Watch has said that all 10 stages of the genocidal process in Jammu and Kashmir are far advanced while Kashmir is under military rule. Yet still, despite all the cautions and the signs, our Government maintain a bilateral position in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, while they apply Magnitsky-style sanctions against China and make a determination of genocide in relation to Uyghur Muslims.
Why the double standards? Is it not the case that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere? Why do we apply a different standard to our friends and trading partners than to our foes? Is it not easier to be critical of our foes, but bolder and braver to be critical of our friends? It is common knowledge that Kashmir is deemed the unfinished business of partition. The question on the minds of millions of Kashmiris worldwide and in the region is simply this: how will the butcher of Gujarat settle this unfinished business of partition? If the assessment made by Genocide Watch and others is anything to go by, we can draw the conclusions.
There are those who ask, “Why Kashmir? Why should we care?” To them, I say that aside from the barefaced violations of international human rights and our colonial legacy, the answer is that Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir is the world’s largest militarised zone, and India and Pakistan are two nuclear-armed states that will be on the brink of war if India continues its war-mongering. That should be enough to keep everyone up at night. The list of serious human rights violations by security forces in Kashmir—and the deliberate erosion of civil liberties by the ideological bed buddy of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP Government—is endless.
While Pakistan made a gesture towards peace by safely returning an Indian fighter pilot in 2019, the BJP has been accused of alleged torture and the custodial killing of the leader Mohammad Ashraf Khan, and the kidnapping, desecration and forced burial of Syed Ali Geelani’s body against his final wishes. Make no mistake: India is setting the stage for Kashmir, and it is not for a Bollywood blockbuster. The BJP’s journey towards enacting genocide in Jammu and Kashmir must be stopped. While the people of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir look to the world to act, will this Government make urgent representations?
I will not stop speaking: not until every mother in Kashmir is reunited with her son, until every woman in Kashmir is free from the threat of being raped by Indian forces—
At this critical time in the region, with the US and UK withdrawal from Afghanistan, it is right that people understand the connections between democracy, pluralism and human rights, and the equally strong connections between fundamentalism, terrorism, insurgency and the loss of human rights.
Over the years, Pakistan has harboured Taliban leaders, and the ISI—their security service—has provided other forms of support to them and to other terrorist organisations. As Secretary of State Blinken said in a recent congressional hearing, Pakistan has “harboured” members of the Taliban, including the Haqqanis.
Indeed, it is. I will try to ensure that the connections are apparent.
Of course, it is no coincidence that the last hideout of Osama bin Laden was in Abbottabad, scarcely a mile away from—and, some would say, under the protective shield of—the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul. Abbottabad is just 20 miles as the crow flies from Muzaffarabad, the capital city of Azad Kashmir. As a constitutional entity—constitutional self-determination has been mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Hall Green (Tahir Ali) and for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne)—the so-called Azad Kashmir, which is better known to the world as Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, is not just strange, but unique. It has been given the trappings of a country, with a President, Prime Minister and even a legislative assembly, but it is neither a country with its own sovereignty nor a province with its own clearly-defined devolved authority from the national Government.
Under section 56 of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir interim constitution of 1974, the Pakistan Government can dismiss any elected Government in AJK, irrespective of the support they might have in the legislative assembly. Strangely enough for an entity that purports to be a country, the constitution bars anyone from public office and prohibits them from participating in politics unless they publicly support the principle of Kashmir acceding to Pakistan. Imagine that: a country all of whose politicians can be politicians only if they say they do not want to be a country. It will therefore come as no surprise to colleagues when I say that the major civil and police administrators’ positions in AJK are held by Pakistani civil and military officers. It may also come as no surprise to them to find that the putative country has no representation in the Parliament of Pakistan. The territory’s local representatives are excluded not just from the Pakistan Parliament but from even those Pakistani bodies that negotiate intra-provincial resource allocation and federal taxes. So much for “No taxation without representation”.
Indeed; I was about to come on to that.
That there is no taxation without representation is not a principle observed in AJK. It is not a country; it is not a province; it is not a state: it is a satrapy. Were I not a British MP conscious of the fact that much of this mess is a legacy of our colonial past in the region, I might almost describe it as a prize of war—but then, of course, that is precisely what Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is. It was gained by the illegal invasion by Pakistan troops in 1947.
Stringent blasphemy laws mean that many religious groups face the death penalty if they are even accused of denigrating the Prophet. Sadly, the infamous case of Asia Bibi is not unique. The rights of women are governed by the Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance 1979 penal provisions, which prevent women from exercising their marriage choices. The South Asia Terrorism Portal records that of the 42 identified terrorist training camps located in Pakistan, 21 were located in Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Those camps belong to three main terrorist groups: Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Hizbul Mujahideen. One of the key areas around which the camps are located is Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Pakistani Government repress democratic freedoms, muzzle the press and practise routine torture within Azad Jammu and Kashmir. According to the world press freedom index prepared by Reporters Without Borders, Pakistan ranks 145th out of the world’s countries, below India. The 2019 Foreign and Commonwealth Office report, “Human Rights and Democracy”, noted that the human rights situation continues to worsen and pointed out that freedom of expression—
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for scheduling this debate and I am grateful to the all-party parliamentary group on Kashmir for its work.
I want to make three very quick points, but the bottom line is this: if this Government are serious about the rules-based order—you never know, they might be—then it is time for them to step up the fight for justice for Kashmir. There are three ways in which this can be done. First, we must say what we mean and mean what we say. All of us will have seen in Hansard that there is now a new trope, cliché, turn of phrase or diplomatic nicety: “We are aware of human rights concerns.” Well, firing pellets indiscriminately at children is not a concern: it is an abuse. Detaining thousands of people without trial for up to two years, including former chief Ministers, is not a concern: it is an abuse. Detaining people without trial for years on end, as we have heard today, is not a concern: it is an abuse. Beatings and torture: that is not a concern; it is an abuse. Troops who shoot dead labourers without trial or suspicion: that is not a concern; it is an outrage, and we should be angry in this House. Abuse after abuse; outrage after outrage; offence after offence: it is about time we started telling the truth in this House about what is going on in Kashmir.
Secondly, the Government can make it clear to both India and Pakistan that there will be no trade deals unless human rights are observed. We know that the prize for an India-UK deal is significant, at up to $15 billion over the next nine years. That is quite a treasure, but are we seriously saying here, in this House, that for $15 billion we will look the other way on human rights abuses? The world of trade is built on trust, and we cannot trust countries that break their agreements, break international agreements and perpetrate the human rights abuses we see in Kashmir.
Finally, how can we pretend that this is a bilateral issue? This is no longer a bilateral issue. The changing of the facts on the ground broke the Simla agreement. Human rights is always a multilateral issue. There have been nearly 300 international conflicts since 1945 and nearly 200 of them were settled through international brokering—think of Holbrooke in Yugoslavia and President Carter in Israel and Egypt. We need a trilateral solution.
The economies of the new silk road will be two and a half times the size of the Atlantic by 2050. Our interest and our duty is in getting involved and delivering justice for Kashmir now.
The human rights situation in Indian-administered Kashmir has long been a cause of international concern. Spanning 73 years, the Kashmir conflict is the longest unresolved dispute on the UN’s agenda. In June 2018, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report that focused on allegations of serious human rights violations, notably excessive use of force by Indian security forces that led to civilian casualties; arbitrary detention; and impunity for human rights violations. It made a wide range of recommendations, including an independent investigation into allegations of human rights violations in the region. However, not only have the recommendations not been implemented but the situation facing Kashmiris has become even more dire, and it has worsened during the pandemic. With increased military deployment and a communications blackout, the people of Kashmir face an uncertain and bleak future.
The concerns point towards a wider problem in India. The rise of populism has resulted in a lack of checks and balances, a power-hungry Executive and a crackdown on dissent. The suffocation of minority rights and a lack of freedom of expression is illustrated in the ongoing farmers’ protests and the persecution of minorities, including Christians and Dalits. The closure of reputable human rights organisation Amnesty International’s operations in India also paints a depressing picture.
Surely it is time for India to join the Pakistani and Kashmiri people in meaningful dialogue to sort out this issue. They could take all the money they are spending on weapons and nuclear weapons and spend it on poverty in their countries and let the Kashmiris decide their own future.
I agree wholeheartedly. The whole of south Asia is suffering as a result of how these two big countries are behaving and the money they are spending on arms. China, Pakistan and India are nuclear powers, so they are putting the safety of the whole world at risk. The sooner they get around the table, the better.
The concerns point towards a wider problem in India. Discrimination has become embedded in law, with the Disturbed Areas Act in Gujarat used as a tool to discriminate against Muslims. Protests in Indian-administered Kashmir are also prohibited. Kashmir is the only state in India where a crowd control gun is used that has caused more than 700 Kashmiris, including infants, to go blind. The list of issues is long. As the all-party human rights group puts it, India is a “diminishing democracy”.
The Government like to talk about the close relationship and friendship between the UK and India, but true friendship requires honesty and accountability. Successive UK Governments have adopted the position that it is for India and Pakistan to resolve Kashmir’s future and that the UK should not interfere in or mediate the process. However, we must go beyond that and recognise the role that Britain has played in the Kashmir conflict. Its roots lie in the countries’ shared colonial past, which facilitated the violent partition process between India and Pakistan and left the fate of Kashmiris undecided.
So will the Minister meet me, Kashmiri groups and members of the diaspora to hear their concerns at first hand? This week, the UN General Assembly also met. Will the Minister also outline whether the issue of Kashmir was on the agenda, and what steps are being taken to ensure that the UN resolutions are upheld? The reality is that the Indian Government have utter contempt for international law and human rights—
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams).
Today’s debate on rights abuses in Kashmir is one close to my heart. It is very personal for me. In the 1960s, my grandfather came to the west midlands to work in the foundries, having left his home in Kashmir. I still have family in the region, and that is what makes what is happening in Kashmir all the more painful.
It is now more than two years since the BJP Modi Government unilaterally revoked articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, robbing Indian-occupied Kashmir of autonomy, reflective of its status as an occupied territory, violating UN resolution 47 and initiating a brutal lockdown. This has intensified human rights violations in the region, with widespread reports of torture, rape, extrajudicial execution and illegal detention. In what is now the largest military occupation in the world, the internet connection was cut off, and political leaders, activists and journalists were arrested.
In 2020, following its reports of widespread state abuses, human rights organisation Amnesty International faced reprisals from the Modi Government and was forced to halt its operations in the region. These repressive actions have been mirrored in how the Indian Government have cracked down on the largest protests in world history, led by tens of thousands of farmers; in how they have unlawfully detained British Sikhs in India, such as Jagtar Singh Johal; and in how they attempted to have three British Sikhs from the west midlands extradited, only for Westminster magistrates court yesterday to rule that there was not evidence to justify it. I send my solidarity to the families of these men, who have faced months of agonising uncertainty and fear, and to the Sikh community in Coventry and across the UK.
Human rights abuses in Kashmir are not simply some issue of foreign policy of which Britain can wash its hands of responsibility, nor are they a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve. This House has a special responsibility for the plight of the Kashmiri people. In 1947, as the colonial power, the British Government oversaw partition of the Indian subcontinent and rejected calls for Kashmiri independence. That decision laid the groundwork for the oppression we see in Kashmir today. But far from standing up to the Indian Government for their violations of human rights and international law, this Conservative Government would rather cosy up to Prime Minister Modi, and would rather refuse to speak out and, once again, demonstrate moral cowardice that shames this House.
Britain has a special responsibility to the Kashmiri people, and it is long past time that we spoke up for their inalienable rights and pursued diplomatic channels to secure UN resolution 47, securing their right to self-determination.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I will do my very best, in the limited time I have, to pay tribute to and to sum up the many incredible, impassionate speeches we have heard today across the House. I thank the Backbench Business Committee, and the hon. Members for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi), who applied for this debate and secured it.
I share the sentiments of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood), who was, as many of us are, really disappointed that we are not voting on this issue today. But we hope that the people of Kashmir, those who have relatives there and those, as many do, with Kashmiri backgrounds and heritage hear the calls from across the Benches for the UK Government to do more to secure their human rights. As we have heard from hon. Members, the human rights situation in Kashmir is utterly horrific. It is one of the most militarised zones in the world, yet garners little media attention or, indeed, action and attention from this Government relative to the severity of the situation, not least because of the censorship, suppression and abuse of journalists, as we have heard, and human rights defenders and activists—something that should worry us all.
As was said earlier, Amnesty International has had its operations shut down by the Indian Government, and India’s abuses of power in the region are incredibly worrying. That is having a devastating impact on daily life, and on the rights and freedoms of people in Kashmir. SNP Members call for India’s Government to respect the administrative autonomy of Kashmir, and to respect human and constitutional rights in the region, including, as many have said, the right to a safe and legal vote on self-determination. That is crucial. We also call on this Government to do more to hold India to account over its human rights abuses, and to assist the people of Kashmir. As many Members have said with incredible passion, the Government should not and cannot in the name of Members of this House put trade deals before human rights.
The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth spoke about the casual dismissing of the people of Kashmir during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, and many Members spoke about the legacy of imperial Britain in that area, and about the duty and responsibility that this Government and this House have to do all we can to ensure the human rights of those in Kashmir. She highlighted how vital it is to engage with the people of any nation, but particularly Kashmir. The UN report found that the human rights of Kashmiris were being routinely violated and the 2019 report showed that, sadly, not very much had changed.
I have huge affection for the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and do a great amount of work with her. Indeed, we went on a trip together to Pakistan a number of years ago, where these issues were discussed robustly. She spoke about the brutal military lockdown and blackout, the abhorrent treatment of Kashmiris, and of how during lockdown, when so many people were desperate to reach out to families, Kashmir had the largest internet shutdown of any democratic Government. She also spoke about the recent concerns raised by the UN about grave human rights abuses.
The hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) raised the roof when he spoke about the butchering of Kashmiris by Indian forces. I could not help but be deeply moved by what he, and many Labour Members, spoke about. He spoke passionately and powerfully on behalf of his people, and said that the right to basic human rights and self-determination is never a bilateral issue; it is always an international issue. I could not agree more. He also robustly challenged the role of the United Nations, which he called on, as do we, to do much more. He spoke as a proud British Kashmiri, and said that he and his people do not bow down, but that they demand human rights and the right to self-determination, as they should.
The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) is a former air force officer. He spoke about the potential use of cluster munitions by the Indian Government and said that, if that was the case, he considered it a crime against humanity. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) spoke of the profound impact on her Kashmiri constituents who could not contact family during the blackout—many other Members also spoke about that. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who always speaks so passionately, asked where the women were and spoke about the precious little attention that she felt women are getting in Kashmir. Many hon. Members have spoken about brutal human rights violations, particularly of women and girls, and about the sexual violence that we so often see in conflicts. The hon. Member for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham) spoke about the UK’s diplomatic influence and why that should be used to help Kashmir. I could not agree with him more. It beggars belief that his Government are not using more power and influence.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the UK can and should play a greater role? We must stand up, given the roots of our responsibility and our shared colonial past, for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. We must do more, and we should help the Kashmiri people on both sides of the Line of Control.
I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman, and I am glad he got that point on the record. I will conclude by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana), whose family came to the UK to work and live. As a result, she is in this House and able to speak so passionately. Are we not at our best when we are agreeing and working together on these issues? I know she will continue to champion them. The Government must listen to Members of the House and do more to help the people of Kashmir. Human rights abuses, wherever they happen, should concern us all. I hope we will hear something of substance from the Minister today, as there is clearly cross-party effort and feeling on this important matter.
I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) and for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), and the Backbench Business Committee, for the opportunity to have this important debate. I also thank all Members on both sides of the House who made such passionate and eloquent contributions, and I welcome the Minister to her place and congratulate her on her appointment.
The conflict in Jammu and Kashmir has been going on for 72 years; it is the world’s longest unresolved conflict. It dates back to 1947, and it is defined by a long and tragic history of political and military conflict. In that year, the British state was, as the departing colonial power, a signatory to the instrument of accession, which gave Kashmir a high degree of autonomy—
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way on that really important point. Many of my constituents in Luton South say that the UK has a vital role to play in this international issue, and that it should not just be left as a bilateral issue. Does my hon. Friend agree?
Absolutely. It is not just about an historical responsibility; it is also about the fact that we have so many ties that bind us now, in 2021, so there is an opportunity to work with our friends and partners in India and Pakistan, and with the Kashmiri people, to find a peaceful solution.
At the same time, in 1947, India was granted control over Kashmir’s foreign affairs, defence and communications. Since then, we have seen countless UN resolutions, plus many other diplomatic interventions, each attempting to resolve the Kashmir conflict. Perhaps the most significant was the Simla agreement, which was concluded following the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971. The Labour party strongly supports the conclusions of the Simla agreement, in particular its conclusion that issues involving India, Pakistan and Kashmir should be negotiated between the parties and that no state should deploy force or act unilaterally.
I think it is important to see Simla and the UN resolutions as a framework for peace. What is very important in all those resolutions is that the agreements and peace negotiations have to be between all the parties. That is the key point about not taking unilateral action, which I will come to.
The Labour party does not interfere with the internal affairs of other nations, but we do seek to uphold what we see as universal values; namely, respect for the rule of law, support for democracy and the promotion of universal rights and freedoms. Where we see those principles being violated, we will comment, and we will urge other Governments to take action and change course.
Fifty years after Simla, we recognise that the situation on the ground is deeply troubling. By some accounts, as many as 95,000 people have been killed in the last 30 years alone, and Kashmir is recognised as the most heavily militarised place in the world. It is deeply distressing that Kashmir has become a political football in a sordid game of great power competition between India, China and Pakistan. What a dangerous game that is, given that each of those nations holds nuclear capabilities.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I am going to have to push on.
On 5 August 2019, the Indian Government’s Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act unilaterally revoked article 370 and replaced the autonomous state of Jammu and Kashmir with two new union territories governed directly by New Delhi: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. What followed was an Indian army-imposed lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir, lasting until February 2021, in tandem with a communications blackout. The lockdown and the internet ban had a far-reaching impact on every aspect of life for the Kashmiri people; education, health services and media freedom were all undermined. The Indian Government maintain that their decision to unilaterally revoke article 370 is an internal matter, claiming that such actions do not interfere with the boundaries of the territory or the line of control, and citing security concerns based on attacks by what New Delhi believes to be Pakistan-backed militant groups. Indeed, we all recall with great sadness the tragic suicide-bomb attack on 14 February 2019, which targeted Indian soldiers in Kashmir.
However, the Labour Party recognises that those who are opposed to the revocation of article 370, and the subsequent lockdown, are understandably angered by what they see as a unilateral act of aggression on the part of the Indian Government. There can be no doubt that that unilateral action was counterproductive in terms of trying to achieve a peaceful and just long-term settlement. Furthermore, in line with Labour’s commitments to universal rights and the rule of law, we urge the Indian Government to consider carefully the impact on the individual rights and freedoms of innocent Kashmiri citizens when taking such significant action.
I also make clear that the Labour party will always speak up vociferously in defence of the human rights of the people of Kashmir. On that note, we recognise the hardship faced by those living in Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir, where the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Elections Act 2020 clearly contravened universal freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. In a letter to the Muslim Council of Britain on 8 May, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), the Leader of the Opposition, made it clear that all sides must play their part in ending the conflict. He wrote:
“Our position on Kashmir has not changed. We support and recognise previous UN resolutions on the rights of the Kashmiri people but maintain that if we are to find a lasting settlement…that can only be achieved”
“India and Pakistan working together, with the people of Kashmir”.
It is with that in mind that I have the following questions for the Minister.
First, since taking up her new role, has she yet sought to impress on her Indian and Pakistani counterparts the need for a plan to demilitarise the larger Kashmiri region? On that note, has she met yet with the high commissioner for India? Did she make clear the need for the Indian Government to uphold human rights in Jammu and Kashmir?
Secondly, what meetings has the Minister had with human rights organisations about the situation in Jammu and Kashmir? Does she give support to the work of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir, which seeks to address the human rights situation?
Thirdly, do the Government have any plans to send a delegation to Jammu and Kashmir to assess the human rights situation and to report back to Parliament? Her predecessor said that the Government were looking to do that once the pandemic allowed.
Finally, will the UK Government commit to doing all they can to support and work with representatives from India, Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir, including all five regions, to deliver justice, peace and resolution to that terrible conflict? I welcome her again to her place, and I look forward to hearing her answers.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Kashmir, and the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) on securing this debate. I am grateful to Members across the House for their insightful, passionate and very personal contributions. The sheer number of speakers we have had is incredible. It shows how much interest there is in Kashmir. I will try, as far as possible, to cover some of the points that have been raised, but time is pretty limited. I also thank the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth for giving up her time so that Back Benchers and I could have a bit more time.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Indo-Pacific region is a priority for the UK, as global Britain tilts towards growth opportunities of the future. Our integrated review provides a strategic framework for us to deliver our ambitions. We are working with our partners in the region to strengthen mutual prosperity and support regional stability. The UK Government also committed in the integrated review to be a force for good in the world, and to drive global efforts to increase people’s freedoms, security, and living standards. As a force for good, we promote open societies, the rule of law and respect for human rights and media freedoms.
I commend the Minister and look forward to working with her. The citizens of Kashmir are denied access to local civilian courts to prosecute security forces for their involvement in human rights abuses. It would not happen in the United Kingdom; it should not happen in Kashmir. What can she do to make it right?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention; no debate, particularly on human rights, would be the same without his comments. I am sorry that he did not get to make a speech this afternoon. I will come on to specific points about human rights in Kashmir shortly.
We fund and promote girls’ education and humanitarian responses in places in need around the world. India and Pakistan are long-standing and important friends of the UK. We have significant links, particularly through the diaspora communities on both continents; hon. Members across the House have mentioned the communities in their constituencies. We are lucky to have approximately 1.6 million British citizens of Indian heritage living here in the UK, and a similar number with Pakistani heritage.
We have a strong and growing relationship with India. In May, our Prime Ministers launched the 2030 road map for India-UK future relations. The road map sets out our joint vision to re-energise trade and investment and the technological links between our people, improving their lives and livelihoods. It demonstrates our commitment to enhance regional defence and security co-operation across the Indo-Pacific region and highlights how we bring our strength to bear to advance clean energy and health.
Through the ambitious road map, we have elevated the India-UK relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership. In June, at the G7 summit, our Prime Ministers highlighted our countries’ shared belief in the importance of human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law.
I am afraid that I will struggle for time, but if I get time I will come back to my hon. Friend.
I assure hon. Members that the India-UK relationship allows for candid exchanges on important issues, including human rights. The number of Members who participated in the debate demonstrates that Kashmir is a top issue that is close to the heart of so many hon. Members and their constituents; many have ties to the area, including friends and relatives living on both sides of the line of control.
The Government take the situation in Kashmir very seriously, but it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political solution, taking into account the wishes of the Kashmiri people. It is not for the UK to prescribe a solution or to act as a mediator.
I am sorry, but I do not have time.
The position has remained the same across successive British Governments. It would be for India and Pakistan to agree if they desired external mediation from any third parties. We welcomed the renewal in February of the ceasefire along the line of control and we encourage both sides to find lasting diplomatic solutions to maintain regional stability.
I simply do not have time: I have two and a half minutes.
We recognise that there are human rights concerns both in India-administered Kashmir and in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights documented some of those concerns in reports in 2018 and 2019; UN special rapporteurs set out others in letters sent to the Government of India earlier this year.
Hon. Members have rightly raised a number of concerns today. We encourage all states to ensure that their domestic laws are in line with international standards, and we have raised our concerns with the Governments of India and Pakistan. Any allegation of human rights violations or abuses must be investigated thoroughly, promptly and transparently.
I want to make a couple of points, but I might come back to hon. Members if I have time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Antony Higginbotham) made a point about the diplomatic network. We regularly raise our concerns about human rights and about the situation in Kashmir at a senior level within the Governments of Pakistan and India. This is done at ministerial level and through officials from our high commissions in Islamabad and New Delhi. Officials from the British high commission in Islamabad visited Pakistan-administered Kashmir earlier this year. Their counterparts in New Delhi are discussing the possibility of their own visit to India-administered Kashmir and are in regular touch with contacts there.
Let me make a couple of points about some other issues that have been raised. We voiced our concern when the Indian Government introduced restrictions on assembly and communications in India-administered Kashmir in August 2019, and we are pleased that the vast majority have since been relaxed. We welcomed reports that many of those who were detained have been released, but we understand that a number of political detainees remain. We call on the Government of India to ensure that they are released as soon as possible.
Let me be clear: freedom of expression and media are essential qualities of a functioning democracy. Just as with India, ties between our people underpin our strong relationship with Pakistan. We continue to urge the Government of Pakistan to guarantee the rights of all citizens as laid down in the constitution of Pakistan and in accordance with international standards—
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).